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Full text of "Biography in black; a history of Streator, Illinois"

4.1) 

C o P . 2 




BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 

A HISTORY OF STREATOR. ILLINOIS BY PAULA ANGLE 

INTRODUCTION BY TED WEBER 




LIBRARY OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS 

AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN 

977.327 
An4b 
cop. 2 



111. Hist. Survey 




Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 



http://archive.org/details/biographyinblackOOfran 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 

A HISTORY OF STREATOR, ILLINOIS 



BY PAULA ANGLE 

INTRODUCTION BY TED WEBER 



PUBLISHED BY WEBER COMPANY 



Copyright © 1962 by Ted Weber 
Printed in the United States of America 



DESIGNED BY THOMAS GORMAN 



'Is 



JLU, 



Dedicated to 



LYLE KENNEDY 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 



To Lyle Kennedy of the Streator Times-Press, for his invaluable 
help in checking the manuscript for accuracy, in researching data, and 
in offering interest and encouragement; to Lyle Yeck, for his collection 
of historical pamphlets and other printed material; to the staffs of the 
Streator Public Library and the Chicago Historical Society for out- 
standing library service; to John R. Fornof for making available the 
facilities of the Times-Press; and to the Weber family for their aid and 
hospitality. 

To the following Streator residents, for personal interviews that 
supplied me with much useful information: Andrew Bakalar, Mr. and 
Mrs. Lincoln Bundy, Lowell Dale, Charles R. Defenbaugh, Mrs. Wilbur 
Engle, John Gaydos, William Godfrey, Joseph Gothier, Fred J. Hart, 
George Hood, Charles Ieuter, Earl McNamara, Mr. and Mrs. L. L. Mul- 
ford, Charles Panno, Mrs. George Plimmer, Fred Renz, Frank Scharfen- 
berg, Thomas Sillanpa, Reuben G. Soderstrom, and James Thorpe. 

P.A. 

ILLUSTRATIONS 

— Chicago Historical Society 

— Chicago Historical Society 

— Newberry Library, Chicago 

— Chicago Historical Society 

— Ammon Defenbaugh 

— Library of Congress 

— New York Public Library 

— Streator Times-Press 

— Streator Times-Press 

— Streator Times-Press 

— Chicago Historical Society 

— Chicago Historical Society 

— Cripe Studio, Streator 

— Chicago Historical Society 

— Cripe Studio, Streator 

— Mrs. George Plimmer 

— Lyle Kennedy 

VI All other illustrations courtesy of Lyle Yeck. 



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CONTENTS 



CHAPTER ONE -1829 

The Waiting Land 1 

CHAPTER TWO 183C-1859 

Grass Roots— Settlers and Indians . . 7 



CHAPTER THREE 1860-1879 

Coal and the Colonel 23 

CHAPTER FOUR 1880-1889 

"Streator Is a Smashing Town" ... 41 

CHAPTER FIVE 1890-1899 

The 90's Bring War and a Scandal . .61 

CHAPTER SIX 1900-1909 

A New Century, 

New Developments 83 

CHAPTER SEVEN 1910-1919 

The "Best Little Burg" 

Does its Bit 103 

CHAPTER EIGHT 1920-1939 

Hard Times and Good 119 

CHAPTER NINE 1 940- 

Facing the Future 

Without Fanatical Hysterics . . . .143 

INDEX OF PERSONAL NAMES 155 



VII 



INTRODUCTION 



This is a story of unselfish love, backbreaking, brow-sweating work, 
frontier spirit, and a belief in the future. This is the story of people 
who made a home where there was none; who planted the trees where 
only prairie grass grew; who dug the soil and planted the corn, and 
dug deeper to suck black coal from the earth. This is their story . . . 
a BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK. 



T 



hus on a Sunday afternoon in March 1961, over Station 

WIZZ, began the first "Biography in Black" radio show— 
the life story of a town built over and nurtured by the precious 
black mineral below its surface. Many days and nights of pains- 
taking research had gone into that first half-hour show and I 
still had twelve programs to put on the air, ten of which weren't 
even in the foggiest of outlines yet. 

"Biography in Black" came about because of something I 
thought Streator or any other town needs in order to grow and 
prosper— civic pride. This to me is the most important basic factor 
in building a happy, economically strong community. We tried 
to point out that a town is a collection not only of buildings, 
factories, and sidewalks, but also of people, its greatest natural 
resource. It was the purpose of this series to tell in sound how 
people built a city out of a small, rough frontier settlement 
beside a river ford. 

The task of turning out an interesting half-hour script 
every week, selecting the forty or fifty records that would be 
used for each program, researching the next week's script, and 
taping the actual show began to look like a monumental project. 
I managed to stay at least two weeks ahead of each air date by 
eating, drinking, and living with "Biography in Black" twenty- 
yil j four hours a day for over twenty weeks, 



Radio is an expensive and competitive medium, and in this 
day of music and news programing, my producing a historical 
program that required a listener's complete attention was quite 
a gamble. Jack Read of the J. L. Read Company of Streator was 
willing to take that gamble and sponsor the programs. I would 
like to thank him for the faith he exhibited in me, in the series, 
and in Streator. My thanks also to Lyle Yeck for his historical 
material, Maxine DeMuth and the Public Library staff for their 
cooperation, Jerry Dhesse for his script on the Cherry mine 
disaster, and Vernon Nunn and Jack Hallstrom for their help 
at WIZZ. 

The series kindled an interest in thousands of people, who 
relived heretofore forgotten memories. This quality in the pro- 
grams made "Biography in Black" very successful. The response 
was so overwhelming that I felt a book capturing the essence of 
and expanding upon the series would be worth while. I origi- 
nally planned to publish the scripts of the shows but found that, 
although dramatic in content, they lacked the completeness 
necessary for a chronicle of this sort. Since the difference between 
script writing and writing a book was apparent to me, I began 
my search for an author. Paula Angle was my choice, and our 
working relationship has been a most pleasant one. I also want 
to thank Phillip Citrin for his counsel and advice, Tom Gorman 
for the design and production management of the book, and my 
father and mother, Ernest and Zelma Weber, for their help and 
understanding in making "Biography in Black" possible. 

TED WEBER, 1962 



IX 



CHAPTER ONE 



An early map of the Illinois Country, published in 1697. 




—1829 



THE WAITING LAND 



The land of course came first— a flat expanse covered with 
long, coarse grass, its monotony broken by tree-bordered 
streams and occasional low hills. Wild animals roamed in abun- 
dance, the climate was temperate. This was the prairie, called by 
Carl Sandburg the "mother of men." 

Those who came to live on the land tamed it with farms, 
cities, railroads, and highways. They tamed it too with names 
for what they found and what they built. For example: Illinois, 
a state— named by the French after the local Indians, who called 
themselves Illini, meaning simply "the men." La Salle, a county- 
named for the great explorer who, though his life seemed one 
long failure, gained an empire for France. Streator, a town- 
named by grateful people who felt they owed a like favor to 
the man who had "put them on the map." These names, Indian, 
French, and American, make a small history in themselves, and 
focus the narrative of this book. 



The first men to live on the prairie, and in the area which 
would later be called Streator, were Indians. Arrowheads and 
implements found along the Vermillion River indicate their 
presence, though in what numbers and at what time is not 
known exactly. Historians do know that in the late 17th century, 
northern Illinois was occupied by three principal tribes of 



IOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Indians— the Illinois, the Miamis, the Potawatomis. The Illinois 
Confederation consisted of five allied groups known as the Kas- 
kaskias, Peorias, Moingwenas, Cahokias, and Tamaroas. Their 
original home had included southern Wisconsin and the area 
around Chicago, but by this date they had pushed southwestward 
because of pressure from the Iroquois on the east. The Illinois 
continued to move in this direction, several bands crossing 
the Mississippi River into Iowa. Many of the areas they left 
were filled by the Miamis and the Potawatomis. 

All three tribes spoke Algonkian languages, those of the 
Illinois and Miamis being quite closely related, and maintained 
the same pattern of living. Their bark-covered lodges clustered 
in villages, where the women raised corn and from which the 
men forayed out to hunt buffalo and other game. Early explorers 
described the Illinois as expert archers and fast runners. The 
same general disposition may have characterized all three peoples; 
according to various accounts, the Illinois were timid soldiers, 
the Miamis mild-mannered, and the Potawatomis more humane 
than their neighbors. 

In later years, Sauks and Foxes moved into northern Illinois 
from their original home to the northeast. Some settled in a 
large village at the present site of Rock Island. 

Although the Indians were eventually displaced by the 
vastly more numerous (and vastly more acquisitive) white men, 
the two groups shared the land of Illinois for more than a 
century. The first whites to enter this uneasy partnership were 
the French, who traveled down into what was called the Illinois 
Country from Canada, where they had settled as early as 1608. 
From their settlements along the St. Lawrence River, they pushed 
south and west— adventurous explorers and fur trappers followed 
by dedicated missionaries. The first to reach Illinois were Father 
Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest, and Louis Jolliet, an explorer 
who had been born in Quebec. The two men (with five others) 
were sent out in 1673 to explore the Mississippi and, if possible, 
find its mouth. From the French post at Green Bay, they descended 
the Fox River, portaged to the Wisconsin, and paddled on down- 



THE WAITING LAND 



stream to the Mississippi. They continued south until they came 
to the mouth of the Arkansas River, where Indians told them 
of other white men ten days' journey southward. Marquette and 
Jolliet reasoned that these must be the Spanish and, fearing 
trouble, turned back northward. 

On the journey back, the little group of Frenchmen took 
a different route, passing up the Illinois River to the Des Plaines 
and Chicago, and then northward via Lake Michigan. Marquette's 
description of the countryside along the Illinois River furnishes 
us with the first account of the land near Streator. 

We had seen nothing like this river for the fertility of the land, its 
prairies, woods, wild cattle, stag, deer, wild-cats, bustards, swans, ducks, 
parrots, and even beaver; its many little lakes and rivers. That on 
which we sailed, is broad, deep, and gentle for sixty-five leagues. During 
the spring and part of the summer, the only portage is half a league. 

Marquette also spoke of an Indian village called Kaskaskia, 
the Great Village of the Illinois, which was located on the Illinois 




In an idyllic setting— more romance than reality— a group of Illinois 
Indians presents a pipe of peace to French explorers. A drawing from 
a map of 1705. 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



across from what came to be known as Starved Rock. The devoted 
missionary returned to this village in 1674 to preach to the 
Indians, but soon fell ill and died. 

A few years later, the Sieur de la Salle came into the Illinois 
Country, determined to found a great trading empire in the 
Mississippi Valley. In 1680 he built Fort Crevecoeur near the 
present Peoria. During his great voyage of 1682, when he became 
the first white man to descend the Mississippi River to its mouth, 
the garrison mutinied and destroyed Crevecoeur. On his return 
to Illinois, La Salle built Fort St. Louis at Starved Rock. This 
fort fared little better than the first. Indians attacked it in 1684 
and after La Salle's death three years later, his lieutenant, Henri 
de Tonty, moved the garrison to Peoria. 

Shortly afterward, the French began to establish posts in 
southwestern Illinois. It was here— at Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and 
Fort de Chartres— that most Illinois settlement concentrated for 
the next hundred years. The northern part of the state was 
hardly affected by the growing rivalry between the French and 
British, or by the French and Indian War that culminated in 
British acquisition of the Illinois Country in 1763. And, even 
though the Lake Michigan trading post known as Chicago began 
to attract settlers after the Revolutionary War, its growth was 
gradual at first. 

In 1818, when Illinois became a state, most of its population 
of 40,000 still lived in the south. In the La Salle County region, 
a few fur traders represented the only white men. A post of the 
American Fur Company, established on Bureau Creek in 1816, 
operated a profitable business until about 1830. Then the flood 
of pioneers that had begun the "Great Migration" from the 
eastern United States after the War of 1812 began to pour into 
the area. They would transform it almost overnight from wilder- 
ness to settled land. 



CHAPTER TWO 



Chief Shabbona in old age, from an ambrotype taken in 1857. 




1830-1859 



GRASS ROOTS 
SETTLERS AND INDIANS 



IN 1821 a lone horseman named Joel Hodgson explored the 
territory along the Illinois River in La Salle County. Friends 
in Clinton County, Ohio, had sent him westward to investigate 
the region for possible settlement. Hodgson seems to have lacked 
the self-sufficiency and daring necessary for his task. The vastness 
and solitude of the prairies overwhelmed him, and he admitted 
that even his horse became cowardly, hardly venturing to crop 
the grass and staying close by his master day and night. As did 
many early visitors to the prairie country, Hodgson felt that 
the lack of timber indicated poor soil and thus boded ill for 
farmers. He also feared that the region would be bleak and cold 
in winter. Two years later, a government report describing the 
area found "the climate inhospitable, the soil sterile, and the 
scenery monotonous and uninviting." 

Although Hodgson's experience may have discouraged his 
friends in Ohio, other pioneers, equally interested in bettering 
their lot, must have seen greater possibilities in the land. In 1823, 
the same year of the government bulletin, the first settlers came 
to La Salle County and put up their cabins near Ottawa. The 
majority came from New England, New York, and Ohio, in 
contrast to the earlier settlers in southern Illinois, most of whom 
had come from the southeastern United States. When the Erie 
Canal was completed in 1825, it proved to be as important in 
transporting settlers to the northern Midwest as the Ohio River 
had been further south. 

The stream of pioneers was slow but steady. Illinois had 
gained a population of 157,445 in 1830; a year later, when La 
Salle County was organized, its population was estimated at 700. 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



The year 1831 is especially important to Streator, because it was 
then that the immediate area received its first settlers. In the 
La Salle County township of Bruce (then including both Otter 
Creek and Allen townships), the first settler was probably George 
Bazore (or Basore). He was a farmer who came from Indiana, 
where he had moved from his home state of Virginia. The Bazore 
farm was located about two miles northeast of Streator's city 
hall, near Otter Creek and the entrance of what is now Marilla 
Park. Others who came that same year included John Coleman 
and John Holderman, whose farms lay just west of the Ver- 
million River. 

The area south of Streator (Reading Township in Livingston 
County) also received its first settlers around this time— two 
families from Ohio. Daniel Barackman (or Barrackman) moved 
with his sons James, Upton, Jacob, Benjamin, and Daniel, Jr., 
and his daughters Harriet and Mary Ann. Jacob Moon arrived 
with his children Rees, Albert, Thomas, and Margaret. These 
two large families, one early county historian noted approvingly, 
"went a good way toward settling the township." 

Hardly had the trickle of settlement begun when it was 
threatened by the terror of small frontier communities— an Indian 
uprising. Although the Sauk and Fox Indians had been moved 
west of the Mississippi in 1804, one band under Chief Black 
Hawk was dissatisfied and returned in 1832 to reclaim its old 
territory. The governor recruited volunteers, who assembled under 
officers of the regular army. Some troops attacked a small band 
of Indians on May 12, but fled ignominiously when confronted 
with a larger force. Although most of the subsequent fighting 
took place north of La Salle County, one incident occurred at 
Indian Creek, not far from Streator. John Hall gave an eye- 
witness account some thirty-five years later: 

It was in 1832 and, as near as I can recollect, about the 15th or 16th 
day of May, that old Shabbona, chief of the Pottawatomies, notified 
my father and others that the Sauk and Fox Indians would probably 
make a raid on the settlement where we lived, and murder us, and 



GRASS ROOTS SETTLERS AND INDIANS 



destroy our property, and advised him to leave that part of the country 
for a place of safety. But Indian rumors were so common, and some 
of our neighbors did not sufficiently credit this old Indian, and were 
advised to collect as many together as possible, and stand our ground 
and defend ourselves against the Indians. 

The Hall family hid their heavy property, loaded the rest 
of it on a wagon, and set out for Ottawa. On the way they met 
another settler, a man named Davis, who suggested that they 
stay with him and others at Indian Creek, since the militia were 
out after the Indians. They took his advice, but it proved fatal. 
On May 20 a savage war party attacked the little group, killing 
John Hall's father and fourteen others, and carrying off John's 
two sisters, Rachel and Sylvia (they were later released unharmed). 




Cigar-store Indians march off into the wilderness with their captives, 
the two Hall sisters. This crude 1833 print does not identify the ele- 
gantly dressed young man. 



A second volunteer force proved more effective than the first. 
Under General Atkinson, the men marched north and defeated 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Black Hawk decisively at Bad Axe, Wisconsin. This brief out- 
break, the Black Hawk War, signalized the end of Indian troubles 
in Illinois, and its outcome encouraged further settlement in the 
northern part of the state. It took a while, however, for the area's 
inhabitants to relax their vigilance. An early historian of Living- 
ston County wrote: 

Even after the troubles were all over, frequent frights occurred. It is 
related of one of the Moons that, one evening on his return from 
work, seeing his wife at a distance from the house, he gave the well 
known Indian war-whoop, and was rewarded for his little pleasantry 
by seeing his wife go into spasms, from which she was recovered with 
great difficulty. 

With the Indian menace dispelled, the area around Streator 
soon began to ring with the sound of pioneers' axes. Following 
is a list, with the date of arrival, of some of the earliest settlers 
in the surrounding La Salle County region: 

1833— John Fulwider (also spelled Fulwiler, Fulwyler) 

Gaylord Hayes 

Norton and Agnes Mackey and their sons Rush, 
Samuel, and Benjamin 

William Morgan and his sons John and Rees 

William Rainey 
1834-Elizabeth Cramer 

Norton Gum (Gunn) 

John and David Souder (Sotter) 

Thomas Sturgess 
1835-Abraham S. Bergen 

Eliza Collins 

Nathan Morgan 

William Reddick 

J. W. Stephenson 
1836-Reuben Hackett 
1837- William Bronson 
to William Donnell (Downell) 



GRASS ROOTS SETTLERS AND INDIANS 



Isaac Painter 
Samuel Wauchope 
1840— George Densmore (Dinsmore) 

Early settlers in the Streator area of Livingston County 
included: 

1833 -Emsley Pope 
1835 -M. I. Ross 

1837 -Andrew McDowell 

1838 —Martin A. Newman 
1840 — Ewin Houchin 

Charles Paget 
1840's— William Bowman 

Samuel Broomfield 

James and Malley Brown 

Jacob and William Bussard 

James Calder 

Thomas Copes 

Charles Dixon 

Amos, Enoch, and John Lundy 

Jacob Phillips 

Zephaniah Schwartz 

John and M. A. Smith 

Charles, Harvey, and Samuel Thompson 
1850's— Daniel, Elijah, and John Defenbaugh 

Caleb and Jeremiah Mathis 

John, John W., and Joshua Mills 

Many of these pioneers, including the Mackeys and the 
Morgans, came from Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Connecticut, 
Ohio, and Indiana also contributed several families. Some, con- 
tinuing their restless search for better opportunities, did not 
stay; John Morgan moved to Iowa, Thomas Sturgess to Wisconsin. 
The majority remained, however, and their descendants— often 
representing intermarriages of these early families— still live in 
or near Streator. 1 1 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Reputedly the first person to settle in what later became 
the town of Streator was George Bronson, who came from Con- 
necticut during the 1830's and bought 120 acres of land near 
Prairie Creek. On the north end of the lot at what is now 508 
East Bronson Street, he carved a dugout from the side of a hill, 
also using rocks hauled from the Vermillion by ox team. (Later 
he built a small cabin on the property.) It was Bronson who 
helped build the cabin of John Fulwider, located at Broadway 
and Wasson, the site of St. Paul's Lutheran Church— probably 
the first building in Streator. 

Newcomers acquired their land merely by occupying it. When 
titles were required in later years, they could be obtained by 
paying $1.25 per acre at the nearest government land office. The 
settlers soon overcame their dread of the prairie, but many still 
preferred wooded areas. For one thing, wood was needed for 
cabins, fence rails, and firewood. For another, the prairie sod 
was extremely tough and difficult to break the first time without 
a team of heavy oxen. 

Pioneers who traveled a long way brought only a few simple 
possessions and a little livestock. If they had a covered wagon, 
they might make a home in it until they had built a log cabin; 
otherwise, they constructed a simple lean-to shack. The cabins 
themselves were usually poorly constructed and small, sometimes 
no bigger than twelve by sixteen feet. A one-post bed might be 
tucked into one corner, with a crude table, cupboard, and chairs 
completing the furniture. Corn in various forms was the staple 
food. One man recalled later that "Meat was almost out of the 
question. We only indulged in the luxury about once a week." 
When the "luxury" did come to the table, it was probably game, 
for the Streater area boasted "deer in every thicket," opossums, 
raccoons, and squirrels. Other wild animals included wildcat 
and lynx, prairie wolf, otter, beaver, and muskrat. There were 
some buffalo in the early years, but the last was reported killed 
in 1837 at Troy Grove. 

Life was hard and comforts few. For years, the farmers 
12 around Streator had to market their hogs at Grand Ridge and 



GRASS ROOTS SETTLERS AND INDIANS 



carry their wheat to Ottawa to be ground. Many drove cattle 
and hauled corn a backbreaking ninety miles to Chicago, the 
round trip sometimes taking as long as three weeks. Such frontier 
amusements as cabin raisings, husking bees, and barn dances did 
not take place often, since the settlers lived so far apart. On 
Saturday afternoons there might be racing and wrestling and 
usually, after several convivial drinks, a fight or two, which made 
Monday a court day with trials for assault. Elmer Baldwin, an 
early settler who wrote the first history of La Salle County, wrote 
primly and probably inaccurately that "This practice has never 
prevailed to any extent in La Salle County. The few that favored 
such a course have yielded to a healthy public sentiment which 
has ever leaned to temperance and public order." 

One can imagine that some of these Saturday gatherings 
might have been further enlivened by local eccentrics. Samuel 
Broomfield, for instance, 

. . . was somewhat peculiar in some respects, more especially in his 
notions on the subject of religion. He greatly deplored the wickedness 
of the world, but, curious as it may seem, placed the responsibility on 
the Creator. He reasoned that if God created everything, He was also 
the author of sin. Further, that if God is omnipotent, He is not only 
able to control sin, but to abolish it; and that He is, therefore, directly 
guilty of all the wickedness in the world. He made frequent appoint- 
ments to preach his peculiar doctrine, and discoursed on the subject 
with much ingenuity, but with poor success in the way of conversions. 
A favorite method of presenting his faith was to arraign the Author of 
the Universe as a criminal before a bar of justice, and then bring 
witnesses to prove Him guilty. 

To balance the picture, the historian adds that "on other sub- 
jects Broomfield was sane, and transacted business with the 
utmost precision." 

The common frontier hardships of poverty, brutalizing labor, 
and isolation were increased when nature turned enemy. Storms, 
tornadoes, droughts, and extremes in weather made a difficult 
life even harder. In the early 1830's, a severe winter storm 13 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



dumped two and a half feet of snow on northern Illinois, and 
an equal amount followed two days later. One result was a 
hard crust several inches thick, over which wolves chased the 
famished deer. One early settler, William Morgan, lost his way 
in such a storm and was found frozen to death only a few feet 
from his home. In the 1840's a flood of the Illinois River led 
to a cholera epidemic that decimated some river townships. 

Other troubles plagued the early settlers. In 1837 there was 
an outbreak of lawlessness in the depredations of the so-called 
"Bandits of the Prairies," who roamed over northern Illinois, 
taking advantage of the openhanded frontier hospitality toward 
strangers. They stole horses and, it is reported, $700.00 from a 
trunk under a bed— a sizable sum for the time and place. Farmers 
soon organized vigilante societies that quickly put an end to 
the thievery. 

Sickness was common, especially malaria, known familiarly 
as "the ague," "the agger," or simply "the shakes." According to 
Baldwin, in 1838 "there was more sickness and more deaths in 
proportion to population than in any year since the settlement 
of the county." An early settler spoke of the swamps around 
Streator and recalled: 

During the damp and sultry weather the air was as full of malarial 
germs as flies in a sugar barrel. Those days everyone had what was 
called the ague— we called it "agger" for short. Shake? Well, I should 
say so! No matter where you went, you could always see both young 
and old sitting out in the sun shaking like a leaf with the ague. For 
medicine we had what we called boneset tea, whiskey, and quinine and 
some took one kind or other of these, but still they would shake. 
Most all had the kind of ague that would shake us up in great shape 
every other day. 

Less stoic was an old lady described by Baldwin. Weak and petu- 
lant after a long siege of malaria, she complained: "This is the 
most God-forsaken country under the sun. It is fit only for 
Indians, prairie wolves and rattlesnakes, and they have about 
14 got possession. I wish it was sunk!" 



GRASS ROOTS SETTLERS AND INDIANS 



Meanwhile, during the 183()'s, the United States was in the 
midst of a financial boom. It was an era of inflation and wild 
speculation, particularly in internal improvements, and Illinois 
was no exception. Ground was broken for the Illinois and Mich- 
igan Canal (between Chicago and La Salle) at Chicago in 1836, 
and a great number of Irish workers began digging. Even Streator 
had its planners. In the same year, the Mackeys and John Morgan 
laid out a so-called "paper town" on Norton Mackeys farm just 
north of "Old Grandad" Bazore's. The streets and lots of the 
proposed city of Van Buren came to nothing, however. And the 
following year, the boom collapsed in a panic and depression. 
Banks and businesses failed and hundreds of men were out of 
work. In Illinois, work on the canal was halted for almost nine 
years. By 1839 the price of wheat had fallen from $2.00 to 50tf a 
bushel and a work horse sold for $50.00. 

Although Streator area settlers continued much as before, 
they undoubtedly felt the pinch of hard times. With a shortage 
of money, most business transactions involved barter. The story is 
told of one farmer who, having no cash to pay for a letter held 
in the post office (recipients had to pay the 25^ postage), finally 
claimed it in return for four bushels of wheat. Writing of the 
poverty of the times, Baldwin says: 

A cheap garment then worn was made of a coarse material called hard 
times, composed of cotton and the coarsest wool, made like a frock, 
gathered at the neck, hanging loose to the hips, held by a belt at the 
waist, with loose sleeves. ... It was worn at all times— at church, to 
town, or to Chicago. 

Recovery was not long in coming, however, and was well 
under way by the mid-1 840's. A stage line was opened from 
Chicago to St. Louis and passed through La Salle County. Work 
on the canal was resumed in 1816 and completed two years later. 

The Mexican War caused scarcely a ripple among Streator 
area people. Not so events in California, where gold was dis- 
covered in 1848. The Ottawa Free Trader of March 1850 had 
this to say: 15 




Early settler Rees Morgan. Af- 
ter his trip to California in 1851, 
he returned to the Streator area 
to become a prosperous farmer 
and county treasurer. 



Our town has for the past week been every evening so crowded with 
California teams and emigrants, that the hotels have not been able to 
accommodate all. . . . On Fox River, we are credibly informed, the 
migration will average one out of every six able bodied men . . . while 
in our own County, although not as large as this, the proportion is 
yet fearfully large. 



16 



Among those from the Streator region who went west to try their 
luck were Barcroft Cunliffe, Fred Gleim, and Rees Morgan. 

Beginning about 1850, Illinois entered a period of rapid 
expansion. In 1849, two fifths of the land of the state— about 
15,000,000 acres— remained unsold. In 1857, less than ten years 
later, only 294,149 acres were left. Towns grew quickly, and 
streams of immigrants swelled the population of Chicago, Peoria, 
Springfield, and Alton. Probably the greatest single factor behind 
this growth was the railroad. In 1853 the first train of the Chicago 
and Rock Island line ran to La Salle. In the same year, the 
Illinois Central completed its tracks connecting Bloomington, 
Tonica, and Mendota. Several of the small towns west of Streator 
grew up along its route: Wenona (incorporated in 1853), Rut- 
land (1855), Minonk (1856), and Lostant (1861). To the east 
were laid the tracks for the main line of the Chicago and Alton 
(later the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio), giving impetus to such settle- 
ments as Dwight and Odell, both incorporated in 1854, South- 



GRASS ROOTS SETTLERS AND INDIANS 



ward other small communities were formed: New Michigan (now 
defunct), Reading (platted in 1850), and Ancona (laid out in 
1854). New Michigan was the home of Livingston County's first 
newspaper, the Vermillion Herald, which published one lone 
issue in 1853. Reading at one time boasted three hotels and three 
general stores, as well as several other businesses. 

These developments had little direct effect on the immediate 
Streator area. Two improvements did come in 1850; James 
McKernan constructed a dam and water wheel on the Vermillion 
River, where he operated a saw and grist mill; and the first 
recorded schoolhouse in the area was built along the banks of 
Otter Creek. But the region was still so sparsely settled that it 
afforded hunting grounds for a band of Indians led by old Shab- 
bona, who many years before had warned John Hall's father 
of an Indian attack. Land had been set aside for the chief in 
De Kalb County in the 1830's, but in 1837 he and his family 
of thirty children and grandchildren moved beyond the Missis- 
sippi to a reservation. According to one account, his son and 
nephew were killed there, possibly in retaliation for Shabbona's 
warning to the settlers, and he brought his family back to Illinois 
in 1855. The land set aside for him had long since been settled 
by whites, and the Indians wandered about the area homeless 
and penniless for two years. 

In 1857 the citizens of Ottawa provided Shabbona and his 
band with twenty acres of land and some buildings near Morris. 
It was here that Shabbona died in 1859. Even during these last 
two years, however, the old Indian continued to hunt over the 
land that had once belonged to his people. A member of the 
Dixon family many years later wrote about Shabbona's last visit 
to the Streator region. It was during the Christmas season and 
a foot of snow lay on the ground. 

Old Shabbona camped out down here by the river for a time . . . the 
Indian chief and fourteen or sixteen of the remnants of his tribe came 
over here on a hunting trip. Their permanent camp was then near 
Morris. ... It was Christmas day that I and several neighbor boys— the IV 



One of Shabbona's grand- 
children, Little Smoke, had 
his picture taken wearing 
a turban and clutching 
bow and arrows. 

Built by Elijah Defen- 
baugh in 1855, this small 
house of weathered boards, 
below, is still standing on 
the farm of Charles and 
Ammon Defenbaugh in 
Reading Township. 





18 



Barnharts and Brown— went over to visit Shabbona. I was then prob- 
ably fourteen years old. . . . The Indians were preparing dinner when 
we arrived and the meal was almost ready. They had three poles stuck 
up to form a tripod and over the fire was a kettle in which deer soup 
was being made. They had a deer head in the pot— and I recall now 
that it struck me as funny that the eyes were left in the head. They 
also had some corn in the kettle boiling. We were invited to have some 
of the soup but it didn't look good to us so we declined with thanks. 



GRASS ROOTS SETTLERS AND INDIANS 



The Indians were very friendly toward us as they were to all settlers 
around here at that time. We were invited into their wigwams and 
there we met Shabbona. He could understand but little English. . . . 
We were asked to take the only seat available— on the ground, which 
was covered with robes and deer skins. . . . The Indians whom I saw 
in camp near here were variously garbed. All wore moccasins of deer- 
skin—several pairs to keep their feet warm— while some of them had 
clothes like ours and others deerskin garments. Deer was quite plenti- 
ful around here in those days. . . . 

The boys with Shabbona on this trip were expert in handling a bow 
and arrow. I remember that they were very anxious to shoot at coins, 
and if they hit the coin it was theirs. Their aim was usually very good, 
but it seemed that they could shoot ten times straighter when a dime 
was put up than they could where a penny was the stake and the target. 

One great issue agitating the people of the United States 
undoubtedly touched Streator area settlers— that of slavery. The 
decade of the 1850's witnessed increasing tension with each new 
crisis— the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and 
the Dred Scott decision. At least one Streator settler was involved 
personally in the Kansas troubles. In the Barnhart Cemetery rests 
a square gravestone, slightly askew on its pedestal, bearing these 
words: 

sacred to the memory of 

Wm. Phillips 

who at the early age of 

29 years & 5 mo's was 

murdered at Leavenworth 

city Kansas teratory Sept. 

2, 1855, while defending his 

rights & liberties at his 

own home against an 

armed band of ruffins 

The famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 brought the 
"irrepressible conflict" home to Illinoisans, and the audience for 
the August 21st debate at Ottawa undoubtedly included men and 
women from around Streator. The Ottawa Republican of the 19 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



previous day went to no pains to hide its bias when it wrote of 
the "simple, unostentatious manner" with which Lincoln parti- 
sans would receive their hero, while commenting that "the Doug- 
las worshipers have bled themselves freely for money to make 
an imposing reception for their idol," and disapprovingly adding 
that they planned to "tote him into town as the Hindoos would 
a pagoda." The debate began at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and 
held the attention of a large crowd for its full three hours. In the 
election later that year, La Salle County went Republican, though 
the state elected Douglas. 

Meanwhile the abolition movement had acquired a large 
following in northern Illinois, reflecting in part the New England 
origin of many of its settlers. When the abolitionist Elijah P. 
Lovejoy was murdered at Alton in 1837, his fellow propagandist 
Benjamin Lundy came to Illinois from Ohio to revive Lovejoy 's 
journal, The Genius of Universal Emancipation. Lundy settled 
at Lowell in 1838, but he published only a few issues of The 
Genius before his death in 1839. Antislavery sentiment continued 
to be strong. Northern Illinois contained several "stations" of the 
Underground Railroad. Although, according to one historian, 
"to ask for a map of the routes of the railroad is to ask for a map 
of the routes by which the wily fox evades the hounds," it is 
known that runaways generally entered the state from Missouri 
at Chester, Alton, or Quincy. They were instructed to travel 
west of the Illinois River; one route followed the river up to 
Ottawa and Peru, while others converged at Knoxville and Prince- 
ton. The common destination was Chicago, a center of aboli- 
tionist activity. 

As the controversy neared the climax of civil war, one 
incident occurred which throws light on the attitude of Streator 
area people at this time. In 1859 John Hossack of Ottawa, a rabid 
antislavery crusader, engineered the escape from court of a Negro 
fugitive who had been apprehended and whom the judge had 
remanded to the United States Marshal. Hossack and some com- 
panions took the Negro in a wagon across the prairie to the 
20 home of William Strawn, who lived about six miles east of where 



GRASS ROOTS SETTLERS AND INDIANS 



Streator now stands. The Strawns, stanch abolitionists, were 
in Chicago attending an antislavery meeting. One Williamson 
Laughlin, whose own home on the county line was a station of 
the Underground Railroad, was staying at the Strawn farm in 
their absence, so it was he who took the Negro to Dwight, whence 
he was carried to Chicago and on to freedom in Canada. Hossack 
and others were fined and imprisoned but the Strawns presumably 
went free, probably regretting that their zeal for the cause had 
taken them away from the scene of the excitement. 

On the eve of the Civil War, the Streator area was still one 
of small isolated farms and seemed destined for little more than 
a rural, if prosperous, future. While La Salle County in 1855 
boasted 30,000 inhabitants, the first county directory, published 
four years later, listed only 152 Bruce Township residents, all 
farmers. (This number represents only heads of families, and 
should be multiplied by three or four to produce a better esti- 
mate of the township population.) In spite of appearances, 
however, changes were already brewing. In 1860, the year of 
pioneer George Bazore's death, Streator stood on the threshold 
of a new era. 



21 



CHAPTER THREE 



Probably the oldest view of Streator. Main Street in the early 1870's. 




1860-1879 



COAL AND THE COLONEL 



As early as 1697, when traveling with the explorer La Salle, 
i the Belgian missionary Louis Hennepin had noticed coal 
along the Illinois River. His book about America, published the 
same year, contained a map showing "charbon de terre" near the 
site of Ottawa. His is one of the first written records of the great 
northern Illinois field, which at one time supplied millions of 
tons of bituminous coal annually. The growth and decline of 
this industry spelled life (and death) for hundreds of commu- 
nities in the region. Coal made Streator, too, and for many years 
the town's destiny seemed to depend on the "black diamonds" 
that lay beneath it. 

Father Hennepin probably noted the coal simply as out- 
croppings along the river bank, for the Indians made scant use 
of the mineral. White settlers too ignored it as long as they had 
a good supply of wood. In the Streator region, however, the 
original timber began to give out in the 1850's and people had 
to consider other forms of fuel. Luckily, the early pioneers had 
settled over an extremely rich coal field. There were two chief 
veins. The upper one— Number 7— measured about 5 feet thick 
and lay between 75 and 120 feet below the surface. The lower 
one— Number 2— averaged about a yard thick, from 100 to 125 
feet below Number 7. 

At this time there were three fords across the Vermillion 
River, one each at the mouths of Prairie and Coal Run creeks, 
and one about where Water Street now ends. It was at these 
locations, where scattered pockets were visible along the river 
bluffs, that men first dug out coal, some of it scarcely ten feet 
below the surface of the ground. Two Livingston County settle- 23 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



ments that owed their start to the early coal workings were 
Vermillion City, directly south of Streator, and Coalville to the 
west of it. 

One of the first to mine coal for other than his own consump- 
tion was Francis Murphy, who began operations in 1851 near 
the present terminus of Court Street. Other small mines, called 
"drifts," were opened into the bluff along the east bank of the 
river at the foot of the present Hickory Street. It is said that the 
river and creeks used to run a golden yellow because of the 
sulphur water pumped into them from the mines along their 
banks. The coal, hoisted by horsepower to the top of the hill, 
was loaded into farm wagons for delivery, and cost from 75$ 
to $1.35 per ton at the mine. Most of it was used locally, although 
some was hauled to the Illinois River and beyond. 

In the early 1860's English, Welsh, and Scotch miners— 
perhaps informed by some miners' grapevine— began to move 
into the Streator area. They burrowed into the east bank to 
"drift out" the seam of low-grade coal that lay about eighty feet 
below the top of the cliff. This increase in population, modest 
though it was, encouraged a few entrepreneurs. Josiah O'Neil 
hauled in a forge and anvil and set himself up as a blacksmith; 
as a sideline, using home-made pliers, he pulled teeth free of 
charge. His brother John opened a general store (probably 
the first store in the Streator region), to be followed soon after- 
ward by similar shanty-stores built by James Huggans and Robert 
Duncan. It was John O'Neil who in later years claimed the 
distinction of giving Streator its first name— Hardscrabble. His 
store on the river bluff afforded him a good view of the steep 
slope below. One day as he watched two teams struggle up the 
hill pulling a loaded wagon, he commented that it was a hard 
scrabble (struggle) and promptly lettered the term on the front 
of his store. (The expression undoubtedly was more common a 
hundred years ago than today; only two years before O'Neil's 
inspiration, an unsuccessful ex-army officer named Ulysses S. 
Grant had given up trying to make a living out of his Missouri 
24 farm, "Hardscrabble.") 



COAL AND THE COLONEL 



While the people of Hardscrabble were beginning to create 
a new community, a fellow Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln— like 
most of them, a pioneer born out of the state— had run success- 
fully for the presidency of the United States. His election in 1860 
was the breaking point in the bitter struggle between North and 
South, and the nation plunged into war in 1861. 

Only six days after the fall of Fort Sumter, a group of La Salle 
County citizens met at Ottawa and adopted the following reso- 
lution: "Resolved, That we will stand by the flag of our country 
in this her most trying hour, cost what it may of blood and 
treasure." It was this spirit that characterized almost every Illinois 
community, and the draft was hardly necessary in the entire 
state. The La Salle County Board of Supervisors granted $8.00 
to every man who volunteered between April and October. In 
Bruce Township, with 270 men between the ages of eighteen 
and forty-five liable to serve in the militia, 134 had volunteered 
by September. 

Among those from around Hardscrabble who joined the 
army were Isaac Ammons, Milam J. Barrackman, Cal Bazore, 
James Campbell and his son John, William Cooper, David Funk, 
George Mackey, William Mason, Sherman and William Mc- 
Quown, Lee Merritt, Tom Mowbray, Charles Mulledore, Abe 
O'Neil, Dell Osborne, Jack and Uriah Painter, Joe Pratt, and 
John Ryon. Though the records are incomplete, they indicate 
that the men saw varied service— Barrackman at Pea Ridge, 
Perryville, and Stone River; John Campbell at Missionary Ridge 
and Kenesaw Mountain; Mackey on Sherman's march; and Ryon 
at Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. Casualties there must 
have been, though their names are lost to us. 

The war led to Streator's second name— Unionville. Stories 
vary as to whether the name represented simply the community's 
devotion to the Northern cause, or whether it symbolized the 
accord of Democrats and Republicans as soon as war actually 
broke out. Evidently many people regarded the change as merely 
symbolic, and continued to call the settlement by its original, 
more descriptive name. 25 



ilOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Maggie Campbell, reminiscing in later years, has given a 
picture of Hardscrabble during the Civil War: 

They had bazaars and community meetings both at Otter Creek and 
Unionville, where they engaged in work similar to that done by the 
Red Cross volunteers during recent wars— picking lint and making 
bandages and underwear for the hospitals. 

All during the war the post office [called "Eagle"] was about two miles 
from Unionville . . . and the school children usually went from school 
to Squire Painter's house for the mail, and it came twice a week. . . . 
And when the spring or fall rains came the road was full of water in 
places and you had to walk on rail fences to get to the post office. . . . 
Overholt and Holmes had a general store at Reading. . . . But when 
the Vermillion was past fording you could not get to Reading and 
the road to Ottawa was nothing but mud and water, so supplies got 
quite limited. 

... a stage line was established between Ottawa and Unionville, and 
many times the passengers who paid to ride had to get out of the stage 
and get fence rails to help pry the stage out of the mud. I doubt if 
the profanity was as common as now, although no prayers were said 
while the stage was being pried out of the mud. 

There were debating and literary societies in the Blackwell school- 
house on Prairie Creek . . . when the protracted meetings were held in 
the winter and sleighing was good, the crowd would get into bobsleds 
and go wherever they were held, also to spelling schools and dances, 
getting home at all hours of the night. 

The men who returned to Unionville after the Civil War 
found little change. There were probably a few new settlers and 
a few new shanties along the river where Water Street is now; 
the Springer and Painter store had opened for business, in 1864. 
But when the town was platted on April 27, 1865, scarcely six 
square blocks were encompassed by its boundaries: Main Street 
on the south, Bloomington on the east, Kent on the north, and 
the river on the west. James Campbell, John O. Dent, Clark S. 
Dey, and Isaac A. Rice signed as owners of the land. 

Insignificant as it must have seemed, Unionville attracted 
26 some attention, specifically from an Ottawa businessman named 




Dr. Worthy L. Streator, left, gave Streator its name and financed its 
fust commercial mining operations. More personally involved with the 
town's future was Colonel Ralph Plumb, right, who devoted much 
of his life to Streator's growth and well-being. 

John G. Nattinger. When he learned that the area was producing 
coal on a small scale, he sent samples to a friend in Cleveland, 
Worthy L. Streator, a physician and investor. Streator and a 
group of businessmen formed the Vermillion Coal Company and 
arranged for a Civil War veteran to head their operations in 
Illinois. 

To this man— Colonel Ralph Plumb— Streator owes a great 
deal. Born in New York state in 1816 and brought to Ohio at 
the age of two, he began work as a gardener, later operated a 
general store and practiced law. A fervent abolitionist, he main- 
tained a station on the Underground Railroad and once spent 
three months in jail for participating in the rescue of a fugitive 
slave. He served his state as a representative for three terms in 
the legislature, his nation as quartermaster on General James 
Garfield's staff during the Civil War. Describing his coming to 
Streator, he said: 

Streater is an accident so far as my part in its making is concerned. 
I had been mustered out of the army at the close of the war, and was 
looking for an opening, not knowing whether to return to the practice 
of law or not. I was traveling around Ohio visiting friends, and railroad 



27 



HOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



connections not being good I had to wait at a station tor my train. 
It happened that an old friend was waiting for a train at the same 
place. Said he to me: "Colonel Plumb, what are you going to do?" I 
replied, "I don't know, I haven't decided yet." "Well," he says, "you 
are just the man we are looking for. My friends and I are interested 
in coal lands in Illinois, and we want you to go out and develop them." 
After inquiry I promptly accepted, and here I am. If I had not had to 
wait for the train I wouldn't have met Doctor Streator, and I would 
never have come here. 

So, evidently by chance, Colonel Plumb did come to the 
little town of Unionville in January 1866, with instructions to 
purchase and develop 4000 acres of coal lands, as acting secre- 
tary, treasurer, and resident manager of the Vermillion Coal 
Company. He wasted no time. Under his supervision, miners 
went to work and sank the shaft of the company's first mine, the 
"Old Slope." Located east of the river, at the foot of Adams 
Street and just north of Cedar, the mine reached a depth of 
fifty feet and eventually covered about sixty-five acres. (It never 
became a large operation, in its heyday employing only between 
fifty and a hundred men and averaging seventy tons of coal 
a day.) 

While miners worked below ground, workmen above were 
laying track for the first railroad into Unionville, the fifteen-mile 
"Stub End Road" that led westward to Wenona and a junction 
with the Illinois Central line. (It later became part of the Gulf, 
Mobile and Ohio road.) Halfway between the two towns grew 
up a small community which Plumb named Garfield after his 
Civil War commander. More than forty years later, William 
Parrett recalled: 

I fired the first locomotive that ever pulled into this place . . . old 175 
—that was her number— but she was first known as "Ralph Plumb." 
She weighed thirty-six ton, and she was a good one for those days. 
I worked on her first way back in '67 or '68 on construction work. That 
was when the old Vermillion Coal Company built the first railroad 
28 line into this place. But the town wasn't known as Streator then— they 



COAL AND THE COLONEL 




Entrance to the "Old Slope" mine. This, the first of the CW&V 
mines in Streator, initiated a profitable enterprise that was to last 
for almost fifty years. 



called it "Hardscrabble." There were only a few people here and 
scarcely enough buildings to make a good bonfire. . . . The Vermillion 
Coal Company's slope was the only mine except a country bank or two 
along the river in that locality. 

With the new mine and the new railroad, Unionville gained 
more settlers. A row of wooden shacks sprang up along the rail- 
way near the mine. Overholt and Holmes moved their store 
from Reading to Unionville and put up a two-story building at 
Main and Bloomington— a site later occupied by the Plumb Hotel. 
Just back of the store and fronting on Main Street was a three- 
story frame structure erected by Dr. E. E. Williams; its top floor 
was the chief place for entertainments prior to the construction 
of Oriental Hall. Zephaniah Schwartz, one of the earliest settlers 



29 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



in Livingston County, moved to the growing community and 
built a large rooming house, called Streator House, on the south- 
west corner of Main and Bloomington. 

Unionville was obviously growing beyond the boundaries 
drawn for it in 1865, so Colonel Plumb and other residents 
arranged to have it replatted. In the meantime, they gave the 
town its third and present name, commemorating the efforts of 
the Ohio doctor who believed in its possibilities. Unionville 
officially became Streator on November 26, 1867. Less than three 
months later, on February 10, 1868, Ralph Plumb as secretary- 
together with James Huggans, Albert McCormick, and William 
Rainey— signed the second plat, which extended Streator's bound- 
aries south to Wilson Street, east to Wasson, and north to Morrell. 
In the spring a meeting was called "for the purpose of deter- 
mining by vote the question of incorporating the town of 
Streator." On the night of April 9, a group of about seventy 
landowners and businessmen met above the Overholt and Holmes 
store. There they voted, 56 to 5, for incorporation, and later that 
month, the townspeople chose five trustees for the village council: 
H. R. Stout, R. P. Smith, Robert Hall, A. J. Baker, and George 
Temple. The new village was formally incorporated in 1870, 
with a population of 1486. 

The council trustees buckled down to business and promptly 
voted themselves "two dollars for attending any regular meeting 
and one dollar for every special meeting." They then turned their 
attention to liquor, streets, sidewalks, and dogs. There were 
already five saloons in town, and the council set the liquor 
license fee at $200.00. Efforts were made to improve the deplorable 
condition of the ungraded, unpaved streets, and a saloonkeeper 
named Wilks was allowed to pay for his liquor license by grading 
Main Street from the river to Monroe Street. An ordinance was 
passed requiring property owners along Main and Bloomington 
streets to build board walks in front of their property. A man 
was appointed to "kill and bury all dogs found running at large" 
for a fee of 50^ per dog. The council also built a jail, appointed 
30 a police constable (salary: $50.00 per month), and named a tax 



COAL AND THE COLONEL 



assessor. Serving on the council must have been a thankless task. 
A member who resigned in 1875 remarked with bitter satis- 
faction: "Show me the man who can serve two consecutive years 
on that board without incurring the displeasure and hostility of 
some, and I will show you a man without the capacity or inde- 
pendence to fit him for that office." 

If the city fathers of the new town were discouraged by the 
pace of civic improvement, they must have been heartened to 
learn— if they stopped to think about it— that industry could 
progress and prosper independently. In 1870 the Vermillion 
Coal Company opened its Number 1 mine, with a shaft located 
just north of Grant and east of Vermillion Street. This mine, 
the largest in the entire Streator area, was in the thirty years 
of its operation to spread over about 930 acres at an average 
depth of 80 feet. With a vein of coal between 4i/ 2 and 5 feet 
thick, the mine at its peak yielded more than 2500 tons a day, 
to make a total of approximately 5,000,000 tons. In 1871 the 
Vermillion Company united with the Chicago and Wilmington 
Coal Company to form the Chicago, Wilmington and Ver- 
million Coal Company— called simply the "Vee Cee" by local 
residents. 

Competitors of course soon entered the field. Colonel Plumb, 
forming his own Coal Run Company, opened his so-called 
"Peanut Mine" on the west side of Vermillion Street just north 
of Coal Run Creek. In the mid-1 870's, the Streator and Joliet 
Coal Company dug a 115-foot shaft near the end of John Street. 
The CW&V Company branched out with the first of its three 
Number 2 mines in 1875, its shaft located near the intersection 
of Bridge and Illinois streets. Other early coal operators included 
the Riverbank Coal Company and the Haswell mine, with shafts 
sunk south of the river and east of Coal Run Creek. John Kangley 
opened a small mine at Twelfth and Bloomington, the Coal Run 
Company its Eagle shaft on West Second Street. Another Plumb 
family venture was the Pekin mine, east of Otter Creek along the 
present Santa Fe railroad tracks. 

Bad luck seemed to haunt the Plumbs. Digging at the Pekin 
operation was extremely difficult because of the presence of 31 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



both water and quicksand. And at their Peanut mine occurred 
the first mine accident of any consequence, when the diggings 
were flooded by Coal Run Creek in April 1878. When the rushing 
waters of the stream broke through the ceiling of one of the 
mine tunnels early one morning, only one man of the hundred 
or so at work was unable to escape to the surface. It was esti- 
mated that the mine swallowed up about 12,000,000 gallons of 
water before the break was repaired. Although the owners went 
to work to pump out the workings and resume operations, the 
mine never again yielded any substantial coal. 

Coal mining created a demand for more and better trans- 
portation. The Illinois Valley and Northern Railroad was built 
from the northwest in 1870. Tracks were laid directly south from 
Ottawa the following year for the Ottawa, Oswego, and Fox 
River Valley line— later part of the Chicago, Burlington and 
Quincy. The Fairbury, Pontiac and Northwestern (soon to be 
known as the Chicago and Paducah and eventually part of the 
Wabash) was built southward from Streator, using the "Ralph 
Plumb" engine in its construction. Along its route were founded 




32 



The "Ralph Plumb" engine, used in budding the first railroad into 
Streator. It was a big day when the locomotive— with Lev Black as 
engineer and William Parrett as fireman— chugged into town, com- 
pleting rail connections with the Illinois Central. 



COAL AND THE COLONEL 



Collins (later Manville) in 1869 and Long Point in 1872. The 
"Hinckley Road," or Chicago, Pekin and Southwestern, con- 
nected Streator and Pekin; after various other changes this 
stretch became part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe in 
1890. Because of its many railroads, intersecting to form a kind 
of iron skeleton, Streator was to grow in rather disjointed clumps, 
with few long avenues or unbroken vistas. And because the rail- 
roads were constructed for the most part without overpasses, 
accidents have been frequent throughout the town's history. 

Industries set up shop in the growing community. W. H. 
Lukins opened a lime kiln at Broadway and Vermillion. At 
Hickory and Wasson stood the Graves Foundry and Machine 
Shop, which specialized in mining apparatus such as ventilating 
fans. The Greener brothers operated the Streator Plow, Wagon 
and Carriage Works on South Park Street. 

The mines and railroads brought an increase in population, 
and Streator began to hear strange accents and foreign tongues 
on its muddy streets and in its crowded stores and saloons. With 
the railroads came the Irish, the "Paddies" who wrote many a 
page in American railroad history. Their shacks along the "Stub 
End Road" at the west edge of town became "Company Row." 
Number 1 mine brought English, Welsh, and Scotch miners from 
the eastern United States, and their cluster of houses around the 
mine received the nickname of "Hell's Half Acre." With the 
opening of Number 2 mine, many Germans came to Streator. 

An 1872 directory of La Salle County lists approximately 
715 heads of family in the town of Streator, from C. Aker, 
laborer, to T. Zweng, laborer. Among the \aried occupations 
listed are teamster, miner, cornsheller, tailor, bartender, and 
gunsmith, along with a few more unusual— capitilist [sic], gent 
of leisure, bee raiser, and U.S. pension surgeon. One David Little, 
though listed prosaically enough as a barber, advertised not only 
"Hair Cutting, Shaving and Dying," but also "Cupping, Leech- 
ing, Bleeding and Tooth Drawing" (Bloomington, below Main). 

In typical American fashion, the "joiners" were on the scene 
early. The Masons founded a lodge in 1868, the IOOF a year 33 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



later. Also typically American was a dutiful attention to educa- 
tion. The small Union School— the first within the town limits, 
still partly preserved in the house at 114 West Elm— was fol- 
lowed in 1869 by a more substantial frame building, the Central 
School, located at Bloomington and Bridge streets. 

The first bank, opened by Ralph Plumb's brother Samuel 
in 1869, stood at 124 South Bloomington (now the Times-Press 
building) and was known as the Bank of Streator until it received 
a federal charter and became the Union National Bank in 
1874. (Though a rival bank received the first charter as 
the First National Bank that same year, it had a relatively 
brief existence.) One of Streator's proudest enterprises, the 
Heenan Department Store, first opened its doors in 1867 on 
Bloomington Street; the store burned the following year and 
was rebuilt in 1869 at Main and Park. The latter year saw 
the establishment of the first newspaper, the weekly Monitor. 
A second journal, the Free Press, set up its presses four years 
later, and the two papers began a rivalry that enlivened the 
town for decades. A third sheet, the Pioneer, came into being 
in 1875, proclaiming among other things that it intended to treat 
the Monitor "with silent contempt." It seems to have received 
the same treatment, and enjoyed but a short life. 

As in most frontier communities, formal church organizations 
gradually superseded the more emotional "old-time religion" 
of the early camp meetings. The first church in Streator, an 
outgrowth of the rural Galloway Church (organized in 1858), 
was the Park Presbyterian of 1870. A year later came the first 
Roman Catholic church, St. Michael's (later Immaculate Con- 
ception), long known as "the Irish church" after the parishioners 
it served. In 1871 the CW&V Company donated the site for the 
First Methodist Church at the corner of Monroe and Bridge 
streets; the Evangelical Church was founded three years later. 
In 1874 Riverwood Cemetery was organized (the name was 
changed to Riverview in 1909). 

The citizens of the town even started a library, forming the 
34 Streator Library Association on November 15, 1871. Officers were 



COAL AND THE COLONEL 



Samuel Plumb, president; Dr. E. Evans and the Reverend L. R. 
Woods, vice-presidents; V. G. Wilson, secretary; Dr. Thomas 
Croswell, treasurer; and C. F. Morse, librarian. Mr. Morse was 
probably not overworked, as the library at first consisted of only 
111 volumes in one case lodged in the office of F. D. Dalton at 
the Bank of Streator. 

One old settler complained about this period that "there 
were no amusements— you had to make your own," and another 
said, "The average worker had no diversion except to go to the 
saloon, play pinochle, and drink beer." Statements indicating 
preference more than necessity, perhaps, because diversions did 
exist. For example, Oriental Hall opened in October 1873 with 
a program of Swiss bell ringers, a ladies' cornet band, and Charles 
Harrison, humorist. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" played there in the 
spring. Jeffery's Guide to the Opera Houses, Theatres, etc. . . . of 
America noted in its 1879 edition (as well as later ones) that 
Streator was "a good amusement town." There were patent med- 
icine shows, lectures ("Romanism" a favorite topic), and concerts. 
(A Monitor note in 1876: "Wenona takes the premium on having 
bad boys. One of them put cayenne pepper on the stove during 
Professor Higgins' concert the other night.") Everyone welcomed 
the first Streator Fair, held in early September 1873. Farmers 
came from miles around to exhibit and buy livestock, and the 
running and trotting races aroused keen interest. 

Then there was the circus. In the early days, these came over- 
land from Ottawa and set up their tents where Prairie Creek 
crosses Park Street. According to one oldtimer, they usually had 
"three or four buffalo, two or three camels, six or seven cages of 
animals and several wagon loads of poles and canvases, a couple 
zebras and not over two elephants." Children were let out of 
school, "in fact, the teachers, parents, and everyone around here 
took in the show." 

There were other diversions which our blase pinochle- 
players may have been too old, or too wary, to pursue. The 
Monitor commented philosophically on an early form of girl- 
watching. 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



When a nice young man plants himself at the corner of Bloomington 
and Main streets to see the girls passing on wet, slushy days, and he 
makes the astounding discovery that his soul's idol is flat-footed, bow- 
legged, with calves no bigger than a pipestem, and that she wears badly 
run down No. 7 boots, he retires from his post of observation to medi- 
tate in seclusion on the hollow mockeries of this world. 

In happier circumstances, acquaintance might be furthered 
over a genteel game of croquet. When cold weather set in, there 
were sleigh rides and perhaps evenings in the parlor looking at 
stereoscope views of Niagara Falls. Here a caution, also from 
the Monitor: 

Young man, if you have been burning up another man's fuel and coal 
oil all winter without arriving at a definite understanding with his girl, 
you may expect to be chalked down as a glaring fraud, and to have 
the scathing finger of scorn, as well as the black muzzle of a bulldog 
pointed at you, if you attempt to take up your swing on the gate where 
you left off last fall. 

By 1874 Streator had a population of over 4000. The wooden 
buildings, hitching posts, and unpaved streets gave it a frontier 
atmosphere, though some improvements had been made. Saloon- 
keeper Wilks had finally finished grading Main Street east to 
Monroe (it had taken him four years, or an average of one block 
per year) . Some local businessmen and shopkeepers had grum- 
blingly complied with the sidewalk ordinance, and board walks 
stretched from the Streator House at Main and Bloomington to 
the railroad depot on North Bloomington. These plank walks, 
sometimes as high as three and a half feet above street level, 
were reached by ramps. Even without rain, snow, or mud, the 
going could be dangerous. The Free Press ran the following item 
one August day in the early 70's: 

A Streator pup went for a rat with so much vehemence the other eve- 
ning, as to entirely disappear beneath the sidewalk, one of the clap 
boards having been displaced some time since by the boys and split into 
36 kite timber. An upheaval in the flimsy slats, a few feet ahead, where the 



COAL AND THE COLONEL 



dog came up to breathe, developed something in the shape of the 
maddest little sweet eighteen the Free Press reporter has seen since his 
arrival. She was assisted to her feet by an outsider who happened near. 

To prevent such mishaps, John McDermott used to make his 
rounds with boards, saw, and hammer, repairing the walks. 
The heavy reliance on wood as a building material created 
a serious fire hazard, and it was not many years before Streator 
suffered the first of several major fires. This one occurred on a 
hot July night, Saturday the 11th, 1874, and destroyed all except 
one of the buildings on the south side of Main Street between 
Bloomington and Park. It was generally agreed to have started 
in the rear of Manley's Hardware Store, because its causes were 
not definitely known. The Free Press headline read: 

our fire! 
Guess how it Started 
We will never tell 
Because We Can't. 

The volunteer fire department, with the aid of a bucket brigade, 
kept the fire from spreading, but losses still amounted to 
about $150,000. The Free Press singled out for attack "the large 
crowd of stalwart men who looked on but wouldn't move a 
muscle," but commended the Fire Department and two volunteer 
helpers (one, from Bloomington, "having not a cent's worth of 
interest in Streator"). The paper also praised "the women who, 
by their pluck and daring, proved themselves to be more than 
heroines. . . . Miss Agnes Hall and Mrs. M. C. Donagho, assisted 
by four or five men, struggled with the engine all the way to 
Main Street." 

New buildings soon replaced the charred remains and 
Streator people turned their attention to other matters. They 
organized a high school, and the first sessions were held in 1875 
in rooms over the Streator Bank. Those of a military, or exhibi- 
tionistic, turn of mind formed the Streator Guards, and over a 
hundred men met in the old armory to drill and to parade in 
their uniforms, complete with pigeon-tailed coats, gaudy epau- 37 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



lettes, and high caps. Businessmen were concerned, for a Wall 
Street panic in 1873 had caused a nationwide depression. By 1875 
Streator was complaining of "intensely hard times" made worse 
by crop failures. Many Americans from settled regions decided 
to try their luck in the Far West, where silver mines and the 
open range promised better opportunities. Early in October, the 
Free Press wrote that "scarcely a day passes but that from one 
to half a dozen covered wagons pass through town bearing sturdy 
pioneers for some western region where they expect to find cheap 
lands and a fortune." 

Only a week later, however, the paper commented that "there 
is no lack of work for all who are willing to work in Streator 
now. The coal men are crowded with orders, and cannot fill 
them near as fast as they desire. Merchants are busy, miners are 
busy, mechanics are busy; the back of hard times is broken." 
This easy optimism probably sounded a bit hollow to the owners 
of the First National Bank, which closed its doors in 1878 due 
to the depression. 

People were worried about sickness— about malaria, typhoid, 
smallpox, and diphtheria— and were urged to cut the luxuriant 
crop of weeds which was thought to be partly responsible. Some 
were apprehensive about the new gas mains, installed in 1876, 
though they made possible bright new street lights to replace 
the kerosene lanterns people had hung outside their homes. 
(James Ryon lit both types from the back of his pony every 
evening.) Law enforcement was a problem too. One citizen wrote 
the Monitor to protest the "brutal taste" of justices and officers 
who had sentenced a malefactor to wear a ball and chain through 
the city streets; it was pointed out that this was quite legal, if 
inhumane. 

Worried by the growing number of saloons and public dis- 
plays of drunkenness and violence, Streator residents took up 
temperance. The so-called Red Ribbon movement found adher- 
ents all over northern Illinois, and Streator was no exception. 
At a meeting of the Streator Literary Society in 1875, members 
38 debated the question: "Resolved; That Rum has caused more 



COAL AND THE COLONEL 



misery than Fashion." Wrote the Free Press in 1878: "Every 
member of the village board has donned the ribbon and flaunt 
their colors in the open air." At a meeting of the men to organize 
a reform club, Colonel Plumb came forward, took the pledge, 
and made an address, reported as follows: 

He expressed himself as being exceedingly well pleased with the move- 
ment, although he had been inclined to treat the work with a certain 
coldness. But from the magnificent proportions it had assumed and 
the probability of its accomplishing a vast amount of good in Streator 
he was constrained to believe he had not calculated well at the begin- 
ning. . . . He had made an estimate as to the cost of liquor that is 
daily drunk in Streator, and said it could not fall below $400 per diem. 
He instanced if this amount should be spent in educational purposes, 
in macadamizing the streets, in beautifying and building homes, how 
much more beneficial and lasting would be the results, how society 
would be metamorphosized— how everything would be changed and 
how much more imposing an aspect Streator would present to strangers 
and travelers. 

Though the temperance movement won followers, backsliding 
was common, the lure of whisky, beer, and pinochle remained 
strong, and few saloonkeepers went out of business. 

By the end of the 1870's— scarcely a decade after Colonel 
Plumb's arrival in the little settlement of Unionville— the town 
had grown remarkably. People of many nationalities had flocked 
in, gone to work, and built homes. Schools, churches, and stores 
stood where only ten years before had been farms and timber. End- 
less tunnels and caverns underground echoed with the clink of 
axes and the rumble of loaded coal cars. Miles of railroad track 
linked the new community to others in the area, and to the 
growing centers of Chicago and St. Louis. It was essentially a 
frontier community, in many ways raw and crude— a rather 
unattractive town, not yet profiting from the graces and refine- 
ments of settled civilization. But it was vigorous and energetic, 
anxious to work, move on, make progress. In the next decade, 
it would do just that. 39 



CHAPTER FOUR 



Inside the Streator Bottle and Glass Company. 




1880-1889 



"STREATOR IS A 
SMASHING TOWN" 



A 



small item in the La Salle Press in June 1881 read as 
follows: 



N. H. Deisher of Streator was over here a day or two this week to see 
his old friends. He says Streator is a booming town and he likes it 
first rate. We must caution friend D. to be very careful of himself, for 
there are lots of holes in the ground over there where people tumble 
in very frequently and are killed. Streator is a smashing town. 

Though the punning La Salle journalist meant only to toss a 
barb in Streator's direction (small-town rivalries assumed almost 
paranoid proportions in those days), he was right. Streator was 
booming, and not just from the "holes in the ground" and the 
coal they yielded. 

For the decade of the 1880's saw the development of new 
resources— resources which, though none knew it at the time, 
would help Streator survive when its coal mines failed. One was 
a clay and shale combination ideal for making brick, tile, and 
related products. The clay was found on or near the surface of 
the ground; the shale beds lay from six to fifteen feet below, 
varied in thickness from twenty to sixty feet, and stretched out 
over almost 20,000 acres. 

As with coal, the Plumb family played an important role 
in developing the new industry. Colonel Plumb wanted a new 
house, and he wanted it built of brick. In 1874 he brought in a 
craftsman from eastern Ohio to make bricks for his fourteen-room 
"mansion" at the southwest corner of Broadway and Wasson and, 
incidentally, teach others how to do it. With Streator's building 
boom, the brick manufacturers had no trouble finding business 4 I 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



after the colonel's home was finished. In fact, the entire northern 
Illinois area furnished a good market for building materials; 
this was particularly true of Chicago, which had begun a gigantic 
rebuilding program after its great fire in 1871. 

Colonel Plumb's imported brick maker remains anonymous, 
but we do know that another early entrepreneur in this field was 
John Kangley, who began operations in the mid-1870's at a 
location just north of his coal mine. Another early brickmaker 
was Thomas Willey, of Lacon, who opened a plant about 1876. 

Bricks in these first plants were made by hand, and it was a 
slow and monotonous job. Workmen dumped the yellow clay 
and pieces of hemp rope into a tank containing an iron wheel 
with attached blades. A pole through the hub of the wheel was 
hitched to a team of horses; as they circled the tank, the wheel 
turned and its blades broke the clay into small pieces. Water 
was then added to form a muddy paste, which workmen shoveled 
out onto a platform. There they kneaded it and packed it into 
molds. (Hence the nickname "paddies" for the hand brick 
makers.) After these were turned out and dried in the sun for 
a few days, the bricks were baked in a kiln. "Lots of work for a 
small amount of brick," said one brick worker. And small wages, 
too: the men were paid on a piecework basis, 90tf per hundred 
bricks. 

The clay products business increased in the 1880's. Colonel 
Plumb's son John and his nephew Fawcett opened the Eagle Clay 
Works in 1880, the first plant to use machine methods. Located 
on the river about a mile south and a mile west of the center 
of town, the plant specialized in agricultural drain tile. The 
Eagle works were soon turning out 6500 tiles a week. Other 
companies in the tile business included the Streator Tile and 
Brick Works and Colonel Plumb's drain tile factory on La Rue 
Street just east of the Santa Fe tracks. By the fall of 1881, the 
latter firm was making between 60,000 and 80,000 tiles weekly. 
In 1882 came the Bruner Brothers Tile Works to the northeast. 
More brick plants opened, too: Vincent Kangley's hand brick 
42 factory in the town that now bears his name, and the Mulford 



"STREATOR IS A SMASHING TOWN" 



and Jackson brick plant in Streator. Colonel Plumb set up his 
Streator Paving Brick Company just each of the present Owens- 
Illinois factory, where the firm made sidewalk tile and a heavy 
paving brick called "cobble stone." Another Plumb enterprise, 
the Streator Brick Works, specialized in sand molded brick of 
great durability. It was soon turning out 20,000 bricks a day. 

The 1880's saw still another resource added to Streator's 
coal, clay, and shale. This was silica sand, found near the surface 
of the ground and of good quality for glass. As was the case with 
clay, the industry caught on rapidly. The first glass factory, 
descriptively named the Window Glass Company (generally 
known as "the old window glass house"), opened for business in 
1880 and soon employed 150 men. In the following year, Matt 
Jack established one of the most important of all Streator enter- 
prises, the Streator Bottle and Glass Company. Although it had 
been organized in 1879 by a group of Streator businessmen, it 
was not until Jack obtained additional capital from Adolphus 
Busch (of the Anheuser-Busch breweries) two years later, that 
the company could begin actual operations. The plant was built 
in the summer of 1881 near the GM&O tracks just west of the 
"Old Slope" mine. It specialized, naturally enough, in pint and 
quart beer bottles, the first of which was blown in October of 
that year. 

Two other flat glass companies of the same era were the 
Streator Glass Works, which turned out window glass on South 
Sterling Street, and the Streator Cathedral Glass Company, 
founded in 1886 for the manufacture of roofing glass and skylights. 

Several new firms set up shop in the "smashing" town of 
Streator during the 1880's. Among them were Iwan Brothers, 
makers of tile ditching equipment, hoes, and plows; the Industrial 
Foundry and Machine Works; several planing and woodworking 
mills and the S. W. Williams paper mill; and the Streator 
National Chair Car Manufacturing Company, manufacturer of 
reclining chairs for railroad coaches. The Powers Hardware 
Company, founded in 1885, was to expand (as Powers and 
Williams) into the largest retail hardware store in Illinois. 



IOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Industry's ally, the railroad, had a new representative in the 
form of the Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa line, which reached the 
outskirts of Streator from Momence in 1882 (because of difficul- 
ties involving the right of wav, the line stopped at Streator 
Junction); the Three I, as it was called, later became part of the 
New York Central. For one year only— 1887— the Santa Fe line 
installed its car repair shops in Streator, where they sprawled 
out over ten acres east of the present depot. The car shops, 
which employed about 600 men, were moved out when the rail- 
road extended its line farther westward. 

As usual, more business meant more people. Reflecting the 
trend of general United States immigration at this time, many 
of Streator's newcomers were from central and eastern Europe, 
particularly Poland and Slovakia. Many Slovaks clustered together 
in Painter's Addition, to the northeast. Both Poles and Slovaks 
settled on the southern edge of town in the Vermillion City area 
(at this time generally known as "Old Number 3," after a CW&V 
shaft, or as South Streator). The oldest Slovak Lutheran church 
in America was built in this neighborhood, just west of Bloom- 
ington Street, in 1884. The first pastor, the Reverend Cyril 
Droppa, came directly from Austria-Hungary at the request of 
a group of Slovak Lutheran families. 

Like many other Americans who have chosen to forget their 
own origin as immigrants, people in Streator felt superior to the 
newcomers, and settled on the term "Hungarian" as a handy 
catchall for the central Europeans. It was inaccurate— some say 
that only one family in all of Streator was of Hungarian origin— 
and was resented as derogatory by Poles and Slovaks alike. 
In an age that was outspoken about its prejudices, the local papers 
mirrored the feelings of the townspeople in their frequent dis- 
approving references to the fights, drunkenness, and general 
"strangeness" of the newcomers. For instance, the Free Press 
in June 1881 reported on a wedding in "the state of Hungary, in 
Painter's addition, Monday evening, at whicii they had the usual 
trimmings, resulting in a fuss." The fight was continued the next 
night, but this time police stepped in, A hearing was set, at which, 



•STREATOR IS A SMASHING TOWN 



said the Press, "an interpreter will be necessary to translate what 
they say into United States language." 

The same note of good-natured condescension is apparent 
in the following tongue-in-cheek report: 

A new plan for dividing the town into wards has been suggested. It is 
to make the division on nationality rather than street lines. There 
would then be an English ward, an Irish ward, a Welsh ward, a German 
ward, and a Yankee ward. Then when a man came to vote his brogue 
would be a test of his right to vote in that ward, and many complications 
would thus be avoided. The only trouble about this is that it makes no 
provisions for Hop Wah and Painter and his Hungarians, but then a 
miscellaneous ward might be established where all these odds and ends 
could be gathered. 

Streator might deprecate its "odds and ends," but it was 
certainly proud of the growth they made possible. The population 
grew from 5157 in 1880 to 11,414 in 1890— a greater increase 
than in any other decade in the city's history. With a truly 
American interest in pure quantity, amateur statisticians labored 
happily. In 1881, for example, one estimated that a hundred 
houses were being built per month, taking an average of ten 
clays to build and each housing five persons. (This would mean 
a monthly growth of 500 persons— probably a high estimate to 
begin with, and certainly one that did not hold steady.) Another 
soon afterward wrote confidently that "The growth of Streator 
has been very rapid, but withal substantial, and everything is 
indicative that before many years hence we will have a popula- 
tion of at least FIFTY THOUSAND." 

One indication of Streator's growth was the newspaper busi- 
ness. The Free Press switched from a weekly to an afternoon daily 
paper in 1880, the Monitor two years later. A new journal, the 
Independent-Times, began a= a weekly m 1885 and after a year 
began putting out a daij, morning edition. Foreign journals 
made their appearance, oo. Two German papers, the Volksblatt 
and the Beobachter, established in 1884, combined in 1885. Three 
years later, the Nova Vlast ("New Home") found an audience 
among Streator's sizable Slovakian population. 



IOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



By 1882 Streator was large enough to incorporate as a city, 
and in April the townspeople voted overwhelmingly to do so. 
On the night of July 3, the village became a city, and a city 
council replaced the old trustees. Offices were held by the follow- 
ing: Colonel Ralph Plumb, president; John E. Williams, clerk; 
John T. Kuhns, treasurer; J. T. Murdock, attorney; Joseph 
Mosher, superintendent of streets; Henry Smith, marshal; and 
R. A. Hattenhauer, park commissioner. The aldermen were John 
Arthur, George Bronson, J. C. Campbell, Hugh Hall, W. W. 
Haskell, B. A. Hattenhauer, J. M. Hess, Thomas Hudson, L. C. 
Mills, and Joseph O'Neil. 

The new status of the town seems to have aroused less 
excitement than the Fourth of July, always occasion for great 
festivities during this era. Streator's own baseball team, the Reds, 
beat Chicago, and the Free Press wrote that "Considering the 
great crowd that thronged the city . . . the good order that 
generally prevailed was gratifying. Five persons were jugged in 
all, most of them being cases of plain drunk." 

In 1884 a native son, Colonel Plumb, was elected to Congress; 
he served two terms as a strongly partisan Republican, and was 
noted chiefly for his support of the Library of Congress. The 
following year it was reported that the old corporation lines 
extended only about midway from the center to the edge of the 
city proper, and that if the city limits were extended correctly 
the population would total 13,000. In 1886 a Santa Fe locating 
engineer reported on Streator that "land is worth all the way 
from $20.00 to $150.00 per acre, the price of $75.00 to $95.00 per 
acre generally prevailing on the uplands while in the vicinity 
of Streator the value rapidly rises." Two years later it was 
reported that some city land which had brought $10.00 an acre 
in 1868 was now selling for $240.00 per front foot. 

In spite of the burgeoning population and general prosperity, 

little had yet been done about paving the streets or sidewalks; 

an 1883 ordinance requiring walks to be cindered did not 

improve matters much. The city fathers began to fear for the 

46 safety of large buildings in the central business district because 



STREATOR IS A SMASHING TOWN' 



of the coal workings that threatened to eat the city's foundations 
out from under it. In 1883 the CW&V Company gave all property 
owners between Hickory and Bridge from Bloomington to 
Sterling streets an opportunity to purchase the mineral rights 
at 50Y per foot. The citizens quickly raised the money and there- 
fore prevented this area from being undermined. It was at this 
time, too, that the coal company donated to Streator the land for 
the City Park. 

The 1880's brought other improvements, one of the most 
important being telephone service. Wires were strung in May 
of 1881 and the first phones, seventy in all, were installed in June. 
Local papers carefully instructed townspeople how to hold and 
crank the new contraptions and how far away to stand, and 
warned them severely to "strictly avoid shouting." By October 
there were eighty-one exchanges; Heenan's store, by the way, 
had #1. Another innovation was electric light, initially used 
only for street lighting. The first lamp was installed at the corner 
of Main and Vermillion in April of 1885. A warm May evening 
of that year becomes vivid through this brief observation by a 
local reporter: "The electric light is indeed a wonderful con- 
trivance. Last evening about ten o'clock we noticed two little 
boys playing 'Boston' under the glare of electricity. They seemed 
to enjoy it as much as if it was noonday." The Streator Gas and 
Light Company was organized in 1886, with Aaron K. Stiles 
as president. 

Water was a problem. Individual wells were not feasible 
for a community growing as fast as Streator. The city dug an 
artesian well, but it seemed to present new problems. An 1882 
report noted: "The artesian well water which is now left running 
at the corner of Main and Bloomington streets attracts consid- 
erable attention, and is being extensively used by parties in this 
locality for drinking purposes. Being quite salty it has a 
tendency to increase the beer traffic in that locality." 

An ample public supply was certainly necessary, and con- 
troversy arose as to where it should come from. One group 
strongly favored Otter Creek, while another recommended the 47 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Vermillion River. The former group carried the day, and the 
newly formed Streator Aqueduct Company inaugurated water 
service in 1886. In less than a year, however, it became obvious 
that the creek could not supply enough water for Streator's needs. 
In 1887 the company shifted its pipes and began drawing water 
from the river about three miles south of the city. All was still 
far from perfect. In 1888, a writer describing the beauties and 
advantages of the new town had to admit that "It has long been 
an open secret that the quality of Streator's water was one of its 
tenderest points . . . that . . . the river supply in its raw state is 
unquestionably bad, a fact that may be the more freely admitted 
now that scientific advancement has made it possible to absolutely 
eliminate all elements dangerous to health or comfort. How to 
kill the germs without killing the people has been a most anxious 
and perplexing problem." Happily, that problem was solved, 
although others— particularly those due to floods— were to plague 
the town for decades. 

The streets rang with the sound of hammers and saws. The 
Plumb House went up in 1882, the Streator National Bank that 
same year and the Wilson and Kuhns Bank two years later. The 
first parochial school, St. Mary's, was built in 1880, but it soon 
became overcrowded and in 1889 St. Anthony's and St. Stephen's 
began classes. Colonel Plumb donated funds for a high school 
building, which was dedicated in 1882. By 1888 there were seven 
elementary schools and sixteen churches. And, though still housed 
in makeshift quarters, the library had increased to 4000 volumes. 
The City Hall was built in the mid-80's. Perhaps most important, 
Streator had a new hospital. The Sisters of St. Francis had begun 
taking patients in the Van Skiver home (across from the hospital's 
present location) in 1887; the first building of St. Mary's Hospital 
was opened the following year. 

It was a lively time. For wintertime fun, townspeople liked 

riding on J. J. Geraghty's toboggan slide, swooping down the 

river bluff from the foot of Wilson Street. His roller skating rink 

in Oriental Hall was popular, too. Traveling professional troupes 

48 offered a remarkable variety of entertainment. In the winter of 



'STREATOR IS A SMASHING TOWN' 



18^1, lor example, energetic theatergoers could see the "4 Big Four 
4" Minstrels, hear Swedisn violinist Ole Bull, attend a concert 
by the Rivals Concert Company, enjoy Gilmore's play "Humpty 
Dumpty," and hope for uplift from a lecturer advertised simply 
as Mrs. Livermore— all within two weeks! And the following 
fall brought the one and only Buffalo Bill with his "mammoth 
combination" including Dr. F. (White Beaver) Powell, the 
medicine chief of the Winnebago Sioux Indians, and He-me-kaw, 
the "handsomest Indian maiden in existence." Small wonder that 
the town soon felt the need of additional entertainment facilities, 
or that its benefactor, Colonel Plumb, should provide them. 
His Plumb Opera House opened in 1883, its ceiling hung with 
gas and kerosene lamps, its red velvet curtains trimmed with 
gold. The hall could hold 1300 persons but, due to the vagaries of 
show business, was not always commercially successful. A local 
writer observed a few years later that "Colonel Plumb expected 
no profit from it, and was not disappointed." 

Local talent flourished, too. One event long remembered was 
the Advertising Carnival held by the Ladies' Library Association 
in the Armory in 1888. Leading merchants set up booths, and a 
hundred businesses and industries were represented in a grand 
pageant of "100 handsomely, magnificently, extravagantly cos- 
tumed ladies, the youth and pride and beauty of Streator, a city 
that during the past few years has been making as great advances 
socially as it has been materially." 

Which is not to say that the less socially approved amuse- 
ments lost favor. By 1887 there were thirty-seven saloons, and the 
local papers continued to run admonitory notices from time 
to time: 

A gentleman of statistical turn of mind estimates that if the working 
men of Streator would, for one year, save the money they now spend 
for drink which benefits them not, they would at the end of that time 
have enough to start a national bank like Colonel Plumb's, with a 
capital stock of $80,000, and still have a large surplus. 

As if all this were not bad enough, a new vice hit town, and again 

the journalists felt called upon to take a stand: 49 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



While one of our reporters was wending his way home last evening 
about 8:35 o'clock, he overtook four young ladies on Wilson Street, 
and as he passed them he was startled by a puff of smoke being blown 
at him from four pairs of rosy lips. He then noticed that each one of 
the fair damsels had a cigarette in her mouth and was evidently having 
a big time. Now, girls, we won't mention names this time. But beware! 
We have a "hi like a beagle," and will publish you if again discovered 
indulging in this vile practice. 

Certainly among the men, however, one form of entertain- 
ment had a stronger appeal than all the others. This was boxing. 
In these days, and in fact well into the next century, the sport 
was illegal in Illinois, as in most of the United States. The 
Queensberry rules had not yet been generally accepted, and the 
bare-knuckle contests that most fighters engaged in were regarded 
officially as a cruel form of sport to be discouraged. Unofficially, 
boxing matches were fairly common, at least in northern Illinois. 
Betting, of course, was the great incentive, and frequently 
involved large sums of money. Fighters trained in secret, usually 
on outlying farms, while promoters constructed boxing rings in 
the countryside near railroad tracks, spread the news of coming 
fights, and arranged for special trains. Spectators climbed on 
unaware of their destination, although they might expect to find 
themselves at such commonly used locations as Braidwood and 
Evans Station. Bob Fitzsimmons and Jim Corbett both fought 
near Streator, and the town produced local talent that included 
"Mysterious" Billy Smith and Tommy Johnston. But Streator's 
pride and joy was lightweight Billy Myer, "The Streator Cyclone." 
In 1886, for instance, he fought Chicago's Paddy Welch, the 
featherweight champion of Illinois, for $1000. The train from 
Streator to Braidwood carried St. Patrick's band and 150 eager 
fans, who undoubtedly came home happier and richer when 
their boy won in three rounds. (Myer, by the way, fought for the 
championship in New Orleans in 1892, he lost to Jack McAuliffe 
and did little fighting of consequence thereafter.) 

The town boasted several new stores, and papers advertised 
50 a variety of products. In 1885, for example, a May issue of the 




Billy Myer in the days 
of his triumphs as a 
bare-knuckle fighter. 
Posing proudly with 
"The Streator Cyclone" 
are Ed Myer, left, and 
Ed Pope. 



Free Press carried ads by Condren and Purcell (wallpapers, 
carpets, and mattings), D. Wolfermann (men's and boys' cloth- 
ing), Hattenhauer and McDougall (paints, oils, brushes), Charles 
P. Swan (wallpaper, window shades), George M. Rigden (jew- 
elry), and Goll's meat market (roast at 10V per pound). Other 
notices appealed to readers who might be interested in buying 
roasted Mocha and Java coffee (three pounds for $1.00), taking 
violin lessons, having a well sunk, or purchasing the services of 
a Jersey bull. The ailing might be encouraged by a small head- 
line: "Truth is mighty and must prevail. So also must Mishler's 
Herb Bitters!" (Invaluable for weakness, nervous exhaustion, 
dyspepsia, and kidney and liver complaints.) Dr. Kline claimed 
that his Great Nerve Restorer cured fits and epilepsy, while the 
sellers of Medicated Body Bands promised relief for a vast array 
of physical ills. 

Basically, Streator owed its progress during the booming 
80's to one chief factor— coal. The new clay products and glass 
industries were still essentially in their early stages. While water 
pipes were laid and telephone lines strung, while women 
rehearsed pageants (and their husbands congregated at saloons 
and bet on the fights), the real life of the city throbbed under- 
ground. UNIVERSITY OF 

ILLINOIS LIBRARY 
AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN 



51 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Every year brought new "holes in the ground," as operators 
dug down for the coal that seemed to stretch out inexhaustibly. 
(It was often cheaper to sink a new shaft than to haul the coal 
long distances underground to an old one.) The CW&V Com- 
pany opened its first Number 3 mine about 1880, its entrance 
south of Twelfth Street and just east of the Santa Fe tracks. This 
operation eventually covered about 440 acres, at an average depth 
of 65 feet. It was the opening of this mine, soon known as "Old 
Number 3," that brought Streator's first central European immi- 
grants. The same period saw the opening of the Streator Coal 
Company's two mines ("old" and "new" Number 4) —the shaft 
of the former at the south end of Coal Street, that of the latter 
on the old car shop property. 

A second mine flood occurred in 1881, three years after the 
"Peanut" disaster, when Prairie Creek broke into the workings 
of the CW&V's Number 1 mine. The break, on November 12, 
happened at about one o'clock in the morning, when the mine 
was not in operation, so that the only casualties were two drowned 
mules. The Free Press wrote proudly that "the water poured in 
without interruption. Where it went over the bank it made a 
cataract which some said reminded them in a small way ol 
Niagara." The company started pumping almost immediately, 
however, and the mine was soon back in operation. 

More shafts were sunk, the CW&V's "new" Number 3 in 
1885 south of Livingston Road on the west side of the Santa Fe 
tracks; its second Number 2 mine (the "Barnhart Number 2") 
two years later. The shaft of the latter, near Shabbona and 
Fourth, went down about 75 feet, and the mine worked out 
about 175 acres. It was this same year— 1887— that would go down 
in Streator history as the year of the big explosion. 

It happened at about 2:30 on the morning of April 21, 
during a heavy rainstorm. Lightning struck the small brick 
powder house of the Number 2 mine, where the company stored 
the gunpowder required for blasting out coal. A huge explosion 
wakened much of Streator, and a scene of wild disorder ensued. 
52 The story is told of one Jock McNeil, a saloonkeeper accustomed 



STREATOR IS A SMASHING TOWN' 



to frequent violence on his premises, who had retired early that 
night to his lodgings behind the saloon. Aroused by the explo- 
sion, he stumbled out into the street (clad, it is said, only in his 
long underwear) and collided with a running policeman just 
as he discovered that the entire front of his building had collapsed 
in a heap of rubble. "Jock, what happened?" shouted the police- 
man. Replied McNeil, "I don't know, but there's been a hell 
of a fight here tonight!" 

When the dust cleared, it was learned that the shaft buildings 
had been leveled and that over forty houses on Illinois and 
Livingston streets had been damaged beyond repair. Flying bricks 
and other debris had shattered windows as far as eight blocks 
away. Though there was only one fatality (a man asleep who 
was struck by a falling brick) , many persons were cut and bruised. 
One paper reported succinctly: "Isadore Kopp kept boarders. 
Boarders will not eat on plates today. Not a whole dish in the 
house." And skeptically: "Nate Mclntyre reports that he heard 
the explosion thirteen miles in the country. Great ear on that 
man, eh?" 

The big question was: Had the CW&V Company stored 
dynamite in the shed? An Illinois statute forbade the storage of 
dynamite within 100 yards of residential property. Company 
spokesmen denied it, stating that the shed had contained only 
about 750 kegs of powder. Others insisted, however, that the 
shed held not only 800 kegs of powder but also 500 pounds of 
dynamite. A coroner's jury settled the matter legally by ruling 
that the shed had housed no dynamite— disappointing news for 
those who hoped to collect damages. These were estimated as 
follows: 

Total loss of 40 houses @ $500 $20,000 

Partial destruction of 100 houses 

@ $100 10,000 

Glass destroyed elsewhere 10,000 

Loss to CW&V Co. 5,000 



$45,000 
The mine was never reopened. 53 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Floods and explosions notwithstanding, coal was king. In the 
year 1885, Streator produced more of it than any other town in 
the Midwest. Three thousand men worked in her twenty-odd 
mines, digging out a million tons of coal a year. The estimated 
monthly payroll, however, totaled a mere $ 150,000— averaging 
$50.00 per month per miner. Small pay for a ten-hour day, a 
six-day week. Wages were figured on a piecework basis, at this 
time generally 90^ a ton for lump coal. Two men, working 
together as buddies and furnishing their own powder and tools, 
could surface five to seven tons a day. 

It was common practice to pay wages half in gold, half in 
scrip. Although the scrip was honored only at the company store 
maintained by the individual mining company, various arrange- 
ments were worked out to circumvent such restrictions. For 
instance, since the CW&V store (established in 1877 at 317-319 
East Main) had the largest stock of merchandise, company 
employees could exchange their scrip with employees of other 
mines at a profit. There were others who specialized in buying 
scrip for cash— at a discount, of course— in and around saloons. 
Payday sprees were common; the Free Press considered it news- 
worthy in 1882 to report that "but one drunk is reported for 
payday." 

Generally speaking, few miners made more than a bare 
living. According to one: "A man who mined coal for a living 
had to be more than a miner. You had to keep a cow, a pig or 
two, and plant a big garden in order to hold body and soul 
together. We were as poor as church mice." The work was dan- 
gerous as well, because few precautions were taken against explo- 
sions, rock falls, and gas. Though Streator's mines never witnessed 
a major disaster, few weeks passed during the period between 
1870 and 1910 without at least one fatality underground. 

Still, there were advantages. One oldtimer, who had "tried 

factories but went back to mining,^ explained that in the mines 

"you had bosses but they weren't looking over your shoulder 

all the time. You were on piece work and, in a sense, your own 

54 boss. If a miner wanted to make money he had to work and 




Miners below ground. The streaks of light are from the lamps in their 
caps. In the early days, these burned oil or a wax-and-kerosene mixture 
known as "Sunshine." 



that was all the boss he needed." And another added: "Don't 
forget . . . that a man who didn't care how many cars he loaded 
got stuck with a poor room. You had to be a good miner to get 
a good room; you had to get out that coal!" To the advantages 
of independence could be added another, less easily defined, 
nonetheless appealing. 

Being down in a coal mine was like being in another world. There 
was a lot of fun as well as a lot of work. The young fellows kept 
things lively and didn't let the older miners grow old. It was like an 
underground saloon but without hooze. It was a strict rule and also 
against the law to drink liquor in a coal mine. It was also against the 
rules to actually fight while underground. You couldn't hit another 
man or your job was gone, but the cursing was fierce. An argument in 
the mine would be fought out in some saloon later if the arguers were 
still angry. But in most cases the arguments were forgotten topside. 
It was two different worlds. 

The growth, the bustle, the get-rich-quick fever of Streator 
in the 80's exacted their price. One was political corruption. 
According to election returns, Bruce Township voted for the 
Republican, James G. Blaine, against his victorious opponent, 
Grover Cleveland, in the presidential election of 1884. Four 
years later, again Republican (as the nation this time), with a 



55 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



56 



52 per cent increase in voting population, Bruce Township cast 
1349 votes for Harrison, 1186 lor Cleveland. Back of such neat 
statistical tabulations lies another story: 

The superintendent of mines would herd the miners down and vote 
them to suit himself. Half of them didn't know what they were voting, 
but he'd give them their tickets and take them down and see that they 
voted. Heenan would corral another bunch who owed him or were 
trading on book, and he'd lock them in the store until the polls 
opened, and he'd send them down. Oh, it was swell here. 

As to other vices, newspaper articles give some indication. 
In 1882: "How long is this thing to last is the question which 
agitates the minds of several of our citizens, or to be more explicit, 
how long are those two strumpets who parade the principal streets 
both day and night, going to be permitted." In 1887: "So long 
as great dray loads of beer are taken into the suburbs every 
Saturday and drunk every Sunday, crime must increase and 
morality suffer." And, two years later, a lengthy report: 

Do you know them? Their names are Joseph Murphy (not the 
comedian), F. B. Wilson and Charles Wilson (no relation to our 
popular banker), John Hayes (not our local butcher), John Sullivan 
(not the heavyweight who divides pugilistic honors with Billy Myer), 
and lastly Thomas Murphy. No, you don't know them, nor does any- 
body else, though doubtless there was a time when they were "Some- 
body's Darlings," but now they are the scrawniest, toughest, dirtiest 
and ugliest lot of looking "vags" and bums that have been inside of 
the city jail since the good old Santa Fe construction days when police 
business was brisk. They are so unkempt a crowd that the police would 
not disgrace the patrol wagon with them, but forced them to walk to 
the city jail from the gas house, that paradise of bums, where they were 
gathered last night. For the next 30 days their address will be at the 
county jail, and Sheriff Morrissey has our sincere sympathy in his 
affliction. 

One of the most interesting accounts of Streator during this 
era comes from the pen of an immigrant-turned-professor who 



'STREATOR IS A SMASHING TOWN 1 ' 



spent a few months in the town sometime after 1886. Edward 
Steiner, born in Austria and educated in Germany, came to 
America as a young man. After a succession of laborer's jobs in 
New York City, rural Pennsylvania, and Chicago, he decided to 
try Streator. (He had heard the name from Slovaks on the 
steamer, who were bound for its mines.) Although Steiner was 
later to become a minister and teach at Grinnell College, his 
Streator experience was that of the struggling, somewhat embit- 
tered young newcomer who has not yet found his place in the 
world. In his book From Alien to Citizen, he wrote: 

The town lay uninvitingly among the coal mines which gave it life. Its 
geometric streets contained the usual stores with the invariable surplus 
of saloons. The residence district stretched in every direction; while 
at the most undesirable edges of town the miners had settled in hope- 
less, unkempt groups. These localities were known as prisoners are— 
merely by numbers, and were fast deteriorating; for the more stable and 
advanced population of Welsh and German miners was giving way to 
the changeable, newer, immigrant groups. . . . 

Its upper current, as far as I could feel it, was dominated by two rival 
newspapers, which . . . flung Billingsgate at each other; and a German 
singing society which met every Sunday afternoon, and in which the 
drinking and the singing were so mixed that it proved quite distasteful 
to me. 

My greatest attraction was a bakeshop and candy store combined, kept 
by some diminutive Welshmen who had been pushed up from the 
mine by the Slav invasion. 

Steiner was referring to the Hill brothers; he probably found 
their store less accessible after he lost his first job, in a lumber 
yard, and with it his room in a downtown boarding house. 

Fortunately, I had previously met the Slovaks with whom I crossed 
the ocean, and with them I again began life, as a miner. I must confess 
that the work brought me no joy and I never learned it with any degree 
of proficiency. 

This change removed me somewhat more from the town, necessitat- 
ing, as it did, my living in an isolated Slovak "patch" near the mine, 57 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



which I think was known as Number 3. The boarding house was pre- 
sided over by the wife of one of my fellow-workmen, and was as neat 
and clean as a woman could make a house in which from twelve to 
fifteen men ate and slept, and in which she was also trying to rear her 
little family. 

What made her task more difficult was the fact that the "patch" 
seemed to be a law unto itself, as far as cleanliness or even sanitary 
conditions was concerned. The only time it realized that it was under 
some government control was when the officers came to interfere in 
the not infrequent brawls. 

The miners were entirely out of touch with the community, except 
through the saloons, which were still in the hands of Germans and 
fairly decent; especially one of them, whose owner rarely stepped be- 
hind the bar; and whose children were prohibited from patronizing 
the place. 

The town as a whole was law-abiding and respectable, and its general 
influence upon the foreign group was good. If there had been some 
man or group of men who would have brought the community and the 
strangers into vital relationship, the results might have been far better 
than they now are. 

The number of Slovaks was small enough at that time to have dis- 
covered and developed leaders among them. But there, as everywhere 
else, we were regarded as inferior interlopers and treated with 
contempt. 

Steiner taught English to his fellow immigrants and also, 
being of an atheistic turn of mind at the time, lectured them on 
the futility of religion. But he had little leisure time. 

Regularly every day except Sunday, I descended into the mine, which 
was then being worked at a low level, and little by little all the resistance 
I had felt to this form of labor disappeared; although I never descended 
without fear, and never saw daylight without joy. 

The man with whom I worked, whose helper I was, an uneducated 
unspoiled Slav of about thirty, had come, like most of his kind, lured 
by the high wages. He had left his wife and little children behind, to 
labor, stint and save, and hoped finally to lift himself above the low 
social and economic status which was the lot of his class. He talked to me 
58 frequently of the pain of the parting and the joyous anticipation of 




Shaft buildings at the entrance of the Streator Coal Company's "old* 
Number 4 mine, at the foot of Coal Street. The so-called "slack field' 
is now a baseball diamond. 



going home. His whole mind was set upon the increase of his savings, 
and he toiled like a man hungry for his work, as in his stolid way he 
faced unflinchingly the dangers of the daily task. 

We worked in close proximity, rarely being more than ten feet apart. 
One day I was loading the car when the roof of the chamber gave way. 
In falling, a huge slab of rock became wedged between the car and a 
corner of the chamber. The lighter end was on my side and the heavier 
part fell upon my companion, crushing him beneath its weight. He 
was taken out alive, lingered a few weeks, and died. 

Steiner soon moved on to better circumstances. He came back 
years later, softened in mood and full of praise for a man about 
whom we shall hear more later. 



It was more than twenty years before I returned to that mine, but I 
did not descend. Above it in a spacious auditorium, I lectured to some 
who knew me when, with miner's cap and blackened face, I walked 
through that city— to many more who did not know that I ever had been 
there; while a few among the number were of supreme interest to me. 

One of them, a Welshman, risen from the mine, had lifted the com- 
munity with him and permeated it with his practical idealism. His 
influence was felt in every mine and shop of his state, and even beyond 
its borders. He was the "strong man, the hiding place in time of storm" 
for the lesser folk; the man for whom men and communities wait- 
too often in vain. 

Because the men who thus arise are so rare, and the cities blessed 
by them so few, I shall name both. The man is J. E. Williams, and the 
place, Streator, Illinois. 



59 



CHAPTER FIVE 



Streator's own team, clear of eye and serious of mien. 




1890-1899 



THE 90S BRING 
WAR AND A SCANDAL 



The year 1890 was Benjamin Harrison's second in office as 
President. Idaho and Wyoming joined the Union, and the 
population reached 63,000,000. William Dean Howells published 
A Hazard of New Fortunes, though people were much more 
interested in reading Kipling's The Light That Failed and Francis 
Crawford's A Cigarette Maker's Romance. The United Mine 
Workers was organized, the pneumatic hammer was patented, and 
all over the country amateur photographers were busily snapping 
pictures with Mr. Eastman's new Kodak. 

For Streator, 1890 brought some new developments, together 
with the comfortable assurance that life was continuing in its 
accustomed pattern. A new enterprise, the Alliance Manufac- 
turing Company, set up shop and began building, repairing, and 
selling farm implements. Three new glass companies opened 
for business: the Streator Rough Plate and Glass Company, the 
Flint Glass Factory (along the Santa Fe tracks at Grant Street), 
and the Art Glass Factory. A farseeing editorial in the Free 
Press went so far as to remark that "It is very evident that future 
manufacturing enterprises in Streator will largely be confined 
to the glass industry." But familiar patterns continued, too. It was 
a big year for church socials on parsonage lawns. The summer 
meeting of the Streator Driving Park Association sponsored horse 
races from July 29 to August 1 before capacity audiences. Both 
Wallace Company and Barnum and Bailey brought their circuses 
to town. The latter's street parade was witnessed by thousands, 
who saw the chariots of Blue Beard, Mother Goose, Santa Claus, 
and the old woman in the shoe, as well as seven open dens of 
lions, tigers, hyenas, wolves, and bears, a herd of elephants, a 61 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



drove of camels with chariots, zebras, Shetland ponies, knights 
in full armor, performing horses, and a "mechanical automatic 
steam musical chariot." True to form, there were complaints 
about the number of saloons— now up to seventy— and pride in 
the streetcar line under construction. All was looking up, in 
short, and one local journal commented: "When the streetcar 
line is completed why not extend an invitation to neighboring 
towns to come and see us? Take them around to the new bottle 
works, new gas and electric light plant, new flint glass house, 
the new window factory, etc. At that time Streator will be using 
electricity for all the various practical purposes to which it has 
so far been successfully applied." 

The decade has become known as the "gay 90's," and in 
many ways it was a happy time. The phrase would have rung 
somewhat hollow to many people, however: drought-plagued 
farmers of the Great Plains, businessmen bankrupted by a severe 
depression, workmen striking for higher wages, soldiers dying 
of fever in lands whose names they could barely pronounce. 
Streator, too, felt the influence of these sobering events. The 
depression had its effects, particularly when local miners went 
out on a protracted strike. Some of her boys went off to war. 
And a scandal at home impugned the integrity of some of her 
own citizens. 

These events took place against a background of general 
prosperity, however. As the key to Streator's booming 80's had 
been coal, so a chief factor in its continued growth during the 
following decade was glass. By the mid-90's, there were 1000 
glass blowers in and around Streator, many of them foreign 
born (the majority Germans). Matt Jack's Streator Bottle and 
Glass Company employed the largest number, and managed 
consistently to weather all financial storms. By the end of the 
decade, another large operation opened. This was the Western 
Glass Company, makers of wire glass used extensively in sky- 
lights and wherever fire was a danger. 

It was the glass blowers who were the elite of Streator's 
62 working class. Their heyday was the fifteen-year period beginning 



THE 90S BRING WAR AND A SCANDAL 



about 1890, a period that ended with the coming of mechaniza- 
tion. For the glass blowers were craftsmen; they were "hand" glass 
blowers, who followed an ancient craft. In a factory where bottles 
were made, molten glass was produced in open cauldrons. Glass 
blowers stood on trestles above the cauldrons, armed with iron 
tubes from eight to twenty feet long (the longer the tube, the 
bigger the bottle) . A bottle blower dipped into the cauldron, 
gathered a lump of molten glass on the end of his tube, and 
swaying the mass, blew gently until a bottle resembling the 
desired shape emerged. He then snipped this "slug" off with his 
tongs, inserted it in a mold, and blew some more until the bottle 
was completed. 

Working conditions were often unpleasant. Factories were 
unheated in the winter, and workers stood by the open-hearth 
furnaces, their faces burning and their backs icy. Pneumonia 
and other bronchial troubles were common. The furnaces were 
usually shut down from July to October, partly because of the 
need to overhaul and reline them with fire brick, and partly 
because of the heat. One item from a July 2, 1890, newspaper 
read: 

Yesterday was the last day of the fire at the Ottawa flint house and the 
blowers all stopped working at 9:30 in the morning. They went in a 
body to the office and informed the manager that the heat was too 
intense for them to stand it any longer and that they would have to 
stop. Although they left a furnace full of glass, the company made no 
protest over the action of the men, merely saying that were they in 
their places they would not want to work. 

Boys sometimes started to work in the glass plants when they 
were as young as eight. They served as apprentices— gathering 
boys, "snap-up" boys, and blowers' helpers— until they were about 
fourteen, working fourteen hours a day for 15<£ an hour. One 
man, recalling that he went to work in a glass factory at the 
age of twelve, speaks of carrying bottles from the blowers to the 
tempering room— walking an average of four miles an hour— as 
"the hardest work I ever did." By the time apprentices graduated 63 



1IOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



from half-pint bottles to five-gallon jugs (made from sixteen 
pounds of molten glass), they were ready to be full-time glass 
blowers. The rewards were impressive. At a time when skilled 
miners were earning about $2.00-$3.00 a day, experienced bottle 
blowers averaged closer to $7.00. They were paid by the bottle, 
and a highly efficient worker might earn as much as $15.00 per 
day, in gold. Even though the blowers themselves received only 
about 80 per cent of their wages— the other 20 per cent going 
to the apprentices— their earnings were sizable. Little wonder 
that, on payday, the glass blowers were "kings of the drag." They 
lived high, and policemen had their work cut out for them. 

An oldtimer reminiscing about this period described how 
the town was divided into sections and "it was as good as barb 
wire in each section." North of Prairie Creek was Shanty Hill, 
while Riverside, to the west, was known as Dog Town. Between 
Main and Hickory stood Bulldog Alley; all of the alleys between 
Main and Bridge were lined with houses. West of the high 
school was Twister Hill, so called from the German "twister" 
blowers who settled there. (When blowing a bottle, usually the 
larger sizes, a "twister" rotated it to prevent it from sticking; 
bottles blown this way had no seam mark from the mold.) At Park 
and Bronson was Bung Town— plenty of beer, also a bakery 
inhabited by a local character called Queen Anne. In those days, 
by the way, an eighteen-ounce glass of beer cost a nickel. "That 
ain't beer," said the oldtimer, "it's dope." He recalled with relish: 

If I went up to Bung Town I had a fight on my hands then and there. 
We only had one policeman. If a fellow wanted a fight he went down 
to Main Street and he was promptly accommodated. A policeman would 
come along, stand around and watch the proceedings awhile, separate 
them, and say "Now boys, come on, we'll go back in the alley and we'll 
just see who's the best man." 

In addition to the industries already mentioned, several 

other enterprises started business in Streator in the 1890's. One 

was Adolph Stauber's pants factory, which employed chiefly 

$4 women. Gus W. Wenzelman's factory produced farm equipment 



THE 90S BRING WAR AND A SCANDAL 



on Iowa Avenue. Shortly before the turn of the century the 
Vulcan Western Company began manufacturing tin plate. 

The clay industry expanded, too. C. C. Barr established the 
Barr Clay Company in 1892, its plant located along the river 
south of the city. The firm specialized in paving brick, turning 
out the first one on July 5, 1893. Within five years the plant 
had a monthly capacity of 150,000,000 bricks and was employing 
120 men. The year 1892 was also the first year for the Streator 
Clay Manufacturing Company, makers of sewer pipe, flue linings, 
and wall coping. Two years later a merger of the Streator Tile 
Works, the Eagle Clay Company, and Colonel Plumb's Streator 
Paving Brick Company consolidated into the Streator Paving 
Brick Company; at this time it made chiefly paving blocks. 

The variety of industries and the growth of the labor move- 
ment were reflected in the formation, in the spring of 1891, of 
the Trades and Labor Council of Southern La Salle County 
(because of its Streator headquarters, generally known as the 
Streator Trades and Labor Council) . Each union was repre- 
sented on the Council in proportion to its membership. At this 
time the twelve unions that belonged averaged three members 
each; the coal miners were the largest group, with nine delegates. 
The Council was instrumental in promoting Streator's first Labor 
Day celebration that fall. 

The school system took advantage of home industry by 
building the first brick school, Garfield, in 1894, to replace the 
Central School. The East (later Plumb) School also dates from 
this decade. Civic improvements continued. One was the street- 
car line, already mentioned, which was first operated by Pinckney 
Barr. Before this time, the only public transportation had been 
horse-drawn buses that made trips from railroad stations to 
hotels, and horse-drawn hacks, the taxis of the day. The rails 
were laid during the summer of 1890 and the line was almost 
ready for passengers by October. Reported the Free Press: 

The street cars are delayed by the non-arrival of crossings. The cars, 

six in number, are the regulation full-sized car such as are used in 65 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



St. Paul and other cities, 23 feet long over all. Bells and checks and 
everything else is ready. The tickets are copper, about the size of a cent 
piece with a square hole through the center, with "Streator Railway 
Company, one fare" on one side and a picture of a street car on the 
reverse. The street cars arrived this morning on the Santa Fe and they 
are beauties. There are six of them of the latest pattern. They are 
yellow top and bottom with a green waist band. . . . the cars are 
finished like a palace. 

On the 8th, the boilers were fired up and one car was run out. 
Again a detailed report: 

Everything run smooth except the burning out of one of the dynamos. 
. . . The cars run smooth except round the curves, but this little 
trouble will be all right after a few trips and the roughness of the rails 
and wheels get worn off. They make very little noise and the horses 
don't seem to mind them much. 

The line was officially inaugurated on the next day when the 
mayor and city council, together with a group of editors and 
businessmen, took a ride out to the end of the line. 

There were a few other improvements, too. In 1893, Main 
Street was paved as far as the Wabash tracks, and five years later 
businessmen along the street were putting in cement walks. The 
new City National Bank opened in 1891. The following year, the 
YMCA opened a branch in Streator. It was first located over a 
store building on the south side of Main Street between Bloom- 
ington and Park, but in 1894 rented new quarters on North 
Vermillion Street. It was during this period that the Salvation 
Army officially began its work in Streator. Although records show 
that the first Christian Salvationists came to the town about 1889, 
it was not until 1895 that three women officers— Captain Rogers 
and Lieutenants Johnson and Baker— were given formal charge 
of the organization in Streator. One of their first, and most 
famous, recruits was Sarah Siddall, who signed on as senior soldier 
at the age of 50. 

Many women's study clubs were founded during the 90's, 
66 launched with such earnest scholarly names as "E Re Nata" 



THE 90S BRING WAR AND A SCANDAL 



("according to our needs"), "Klio" (the muse of history), and 
"Philomathean" ("lover of learning"). (An earlier counterpart 
was "Callere"— "to know well"— founded in 1888.) A gentleman 
writer of the period commented that "There are men's clubs and 
women's clubs, but candor compels the writer to say that those 
directed by his sex are mainly for relaxation and pleasure, while 
those of the ladies are without exception devoted to intellectual 
pursuits. Something of the same restless energy that the men have 
thrown into industrial activity has found outlet by the women 
through their study clubs and kindred activities." For example, 
"E Re Nata" devoted its first year, 1893, to the study of art so its 
members could fully enjoy the World's Columbian Exposition 
then attracting thousands of visitors to Chicago. (Streator resi- 
dents have a physical reminder of the fair in St. Casimir's Church, 
which was originally part of the Russian exhibit at the fair.) 

Streator continued to be represented in Congress by a local 
businessman. Walter Reeves, who was first elected to the House 
of Representatives in 1894, was re-elected in 1896 and 1898. 

During the 90's, the bicycle was the do-it-yourself amuse- 
ment par excellence, and Streator was no exception to the rule. 
Among those who had a passion for "wheels" were Harry Lukins, 
Ted Taylor, Andy Anderson, J. C. Barlow, and Fred Le Roy; 
Art Smith was particularly envied for his $125 nickle-plated Ide 
machine. Bicycle clubs were formed, races were held on Main 
Street, and boys rode around the countryside to qualify as 
"century riders" (those who had logged 100 miles on the open 
road). The trip to La Salle, Utica, and back was a favorite. 
Bicycles even figured in evening parties: 

A bicycle "paper chase" was indulged in last night by about one 
hundred riders. Two young men started from the park, each carrying 
a small bag filled with paper cut in small pieces, which they scattered 
along the route they traveled. They were given a few minutes start, 
and then the crowd of riders endeavored to follow them by the trail 
left by the paper. The race ended at the social given at the home of 
Dr. Dicus. 67 







,(/..>/^ 



; 1 : M» 



In the heyday of the bicycle, 
Streatorites pose in front 
of a favorite shop. At left 
and right in the doorway 
are Sam and Will Van 
Loon. Mr. and Mrs. Ernest 
Hicks stand at the curb. 



Streator's "Honey Boy" 
Evans, right, as he ap- 
peared in blackface make- 
up. His talent won him a 
secure place in the roster 
of minstrel show "greats." 




68 



Headliners continued to appear at the Opera House. More 
important, Streator people were beginning to make a name for 
themselves, and for their town, in the world of entertainment. 
One of these was George Evans, a minstrel singer better known 
as "Honey Boy" (from the song he wrote, "I'll be True to My 
Honey Boy"). The Evans family was Welsh, with the Welsh 



THE 90 S BRING WAR AND A SCANDAL 



feeling for song, and both George's mother and his brother 
Charlie sang beautifully, too. In fact, one who knew them all 
claimed that Charlie was a better singer than George. Another 
opinion had it that George "didn't know a note from a drum- 
stick, but he could sing." Be that as it may, young George joined 
Haverly's Minstrels at the age of twenty-one, and a year later— 
on June 1, 1892— made his first professional appearance in his 
home town. 

A Free Press review listed the principal numbers: three by 
other members of the cast, and the fourth 

. . . "Only a Ringlet of Hair," by George Evans. Mr. Evans was 
vociferously applauded and kindly responded by singing "I'll Take 
Thee Back Again, Kathleen," and was rewarded by receiving two 
handsome bouquets. While bowing his acknowledgment Mr. Ross Bean 
stepped out on the stage, and in a few well chosen words presented 
George with a beautiful gold-headed cane. George swallowed his Adam's 
apple four or five times, and then thanked the donors and audience 
for their kindness. Mr. Evans is yet a young man and is considered one 
of the best ballad singers on the minstrel's stage. 

For once, local pride did not mislead the home-town journal. 
Although "Honey Boy" may, as one Streatorite claims, always 
have been self-conscious when singing in his home town, he 
quickly earned a top place for himself in the entertainment 
world. He appeared on the Keith and Orpheum vaudeville 
circuits and in 1908 was the star of Cohan and Harris' revival 
of minstrelsy in Atlantic City. In 1910 he bought his own minstrel 
show, in which his act, "The Seven Honey Boys," was a favorite 
with audiences. As well as the song that gave him his nickname, 
Evans wrote a perennial favorite, "In the Good Old Summertime," 
and several others that capture the flavor of turn-of-the-century 
America: "Standing on the Corner, Didn't Mean no Harm," 
"Down Where the Watermelon Grows," and "Come Take a 
Trip in my Airship." 

Beginning in the 90's, Streator's baseball team, the Reds, 
hit its stride. This particular group (several used the name) was 69 



IIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



organized in 1891 by Ed St. Clair and played on a lot where the 
Grant School was later built. Well-known players at this time 
included pitcher Johnny Maher; catcher Pat Burke; Dick Purcell, 
first base; Charles Ieuter, second base; Ed Quinn, third base; 
shortstop Danny Lynch; and "Spikes" McAllister in left field. 
For an important game against Ottawa, Joliet, or La Salle 
(fellow members of -the Illinois Valley League), the Reds might 
import a semiprofessional player to better the odds. For example, 
they paid Clark Griffith $25.00 one October day in 1894 to pitch 
against Marseilles. Another season they opened the park in South 
Bend and, as the phrase went, "loaded up" by hiring both a 
pitcher and a catcher. A special train out of Streator carried 1500 
fans, happy to be on hand when the home team won 6-5 in twelve 
innings. 

Probably Streator's most colorful contribution to the world 
of entertainment was the Streator American Zouaves, the drill 
team better known as the "Zoos." George Knox, a member, 
explained how the group (formed officially January 2, 1897) 
got started: 

The Zouaves were not organized as a drill team originally. We were a 
crowd of young fellows, most of whom were employed by the Streator 
Art Glass Works, and for want of something to do for amusement we 
started a sort of social and athletic club. . . . About this time the 
American Zouaves [of Ottawa] had the reputation of being the best 
drilled set of men in the country. . . . One of our men mentioned one 
night that it would be a good idea to start a drill team and capture a 
few laurels for ourselves. . . . The ultimate idea was, of course, to beat 
Ottawa. 

After their first appearance on May 4 at Galesburg, before a 
GAR encampment, the Zouaves went on to perform all over 
northern Illinois. (A log, now in the Public Library, lists many 
of the appearances, with such notes as "1898, August. Henry. 
Under canvas rained like hell.") They did their drill with 
lightning speed, the specialty being wall scaling so fast that no 
70 music was fast enough to serve as background. 




In one of the high lights of their performances, Streator's Zouaves 
scaled a wall with military precision and great speed. The eighty- 
member drill team toured with the Keith and Proctor vaudeville cir- 
cuits, and with Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show. 

In 1898 the Zoos turned professional, joining a vaudeville 
company which performed that year in Chicago, the following 
year in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. The Zoos were a 
great attraction, rivaling in audience appeal such stars as Will 
Rogers, Lily Langtry, Houdini, and W. C. Fields. They toured 
England, Germany, Russia, and South Africa. The sad end of 
the group, professionally, came in 1905 when McCaddons Great 
International Shows, with which they were appearing in France, 
went into the hands of receivers at Grenoble and was sold at 
public auction. 

Young ladies and gentlemen continued to court and be 
courted, and the newspapers continued to take a lively interest 
in what might be considered matters that were none of their 
business: 



71 



lOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



The gentleman who escorted a young lady home from the show last 
evening, and stood in front of the open door to bid her good night, 
should be more careful. The light within the home revealed his loving 
caresses to a passerby, who heartily enjoyed the scene. If the gentleman 
had been from Chicago we would have thought nothing of it, as they 
will do anything at any time, but he wasn't. 

Even calamities kept to the same old pattern when another 
big fire broke out downtown. It began at about 6:30 on the 
evening of November 22, 1897, after an oil lamp exploded in 
the millinery department of Heenan's store. The volunteer fire 
department found the water pressure very low, their first hose 
broke, and they had no ladders. Ottawa sent firemen, but under 
the circumstances it was little wonder that in two hours the walls 
had fallen and nothing remained of the three-story building but 
the basement and a smoldering mass of ruins. The damage was 
estimated at $200,000 (with insurance covering $125,000). As to 
casualties, they amounted to a singed beard and a cut leg. The 
latter was suffered by one of the Plumb Hotel maids who, when 
she heard cries of "Fire!" from down the street, must have felt 
the hotel was in danger. She rushed to move her trunk to safety 
and in so doing dropped it and inflicted a four-inch gash. 

A new store building, far surpassing the old one in size, 
went up the following summer. It was this new and larger store 
—still standing on the corner of Main and Park— which came 
to be the biggest in northern Illinois outside of Chicago. It 
carried a great variety of merchandise, and introduced to 
Streator such innovations as installment buying (one third 
down, the balance within a year). 

Although Streator's coal output declined somewhat in the 
90's, the industry was still a healthy one. The CW&V Company 
opened its third and final Number 2 mine in 1895, with its 
entrance located about a quarter mile east of Otter Creek Street 
just north of the Santa Fe tracks. The shaft was sunk about 100 
feet and the mine eventually covered around 250 acres. 

The miners of this period— like many of their fellow workers 
72 —were growing increasingly dissatisfied with their situation. As 



THE 90S BRING WAR AND A SCANDAL 



«*r* 



> 




Heenan's Department Store, at the northwest corner of Main and Park. 
At about the time this picture was taken, a Streator lady of fashion 
could purchase a marten scarf (ten tails) for $4.98, a Russian lynx muff 
for only $1.25. 



early as 1891, American farmers and laborers worried by poor 
crops and low wages had banded together to form the Populist 
party, dedicated to a program of social reforms. Its strength, 
shown by the million votes polled in the 1892 presidential election, 
increased with the financial panic and depression that struck the 
country the next year. In 1894 came the fiasco of Coxey's Army, 
as well as the far more serious Pullman Strike in Chicago. 
Businessmen were reassured when McKinley defeated Bryan for 
the presidency in 1896, but the new President's confidence in his 
"full dinner pail" policy was not enough to encourage everyone. 
In 1897, led by the recently formed United Mine Workers, 
miners all over the country went on strike. 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



In Streator the miners left their jobs in June and did not 
return to work for six months. This was the longest coal strike in 
the town's history but, according to one observer, "There was 
never any bloodshed. The old miner of those days was the 
squarest [most honest] man. He would never quit work willingly, 
but if he did you could never get him to go back." During the 
long strike, John E. Williams organized and led the Business 
Men's Auxiliary League, to provide help to the striking miners. 
Their aid was supplemented informally. 

A couple miners would go out to the country and say to a farmer, 
"There's a hog, how much do you want for it?" 

"Well," he says, "it's worth so much money." 

"All right, we'll take it. When we get back to work we'll come and 
pay you for that hog." 

And their word was always good. 

Commented another miner, "The miners would go on strike and 
it would be until the next strike getting paid up. Scabs? They 
just knocked the hell out of them and that's all there was to it." 
At any rate this storm was weathered without too many ill effects. 
Wages were increased, and the men went back to work in 
December. 

The depression had side effects in Streator. The City 
National Bank folded in 1897. Several saloons went out of busi- 
ness, though the Free Press contended that it was their "low moral 
tone" as much as depressed business conditions that accounted 
for their demise. Those who still had the adventurous spirit could 
strike out for distant parts; an 1897 newspaper thoughtfully 
included a map showing the two main routes to the Klondike, 
where gold had recently been found. 

As a matter of fact, Klondike gold helped end the depression, 
and by 1898 the worst was over. Americans had a new worry, 
however, in the form of Cuba and relations with Spain. Troubled 
conditions in the Spanish colony had been a source of anxiety 
for some time, and many Americans felt that the United States 
74 should step in and put an end to what they felt was blatant 



THE 90S BRING WAR AND A SCANDAL 



misrule. They intensified their campaign when the American 
battleship Maine exploded in Havana harbor in February 1898. 
Relations between Spain and the United States became extremely 
strained by late April, and volunteer units were called up 
throughout the country. 

One of these was Streator's own Company A, which left for 
Camp Tanner, near Springfield, on the night of April 26. The 
company, commanded by Captain William Higby, First Lieu- 
tenant Charles P. Gaut, and Second Lieutenant Benjamin R. 
Hall, included nine noncommissioned officers and twenty-six 
privates from Streator, with additional men from Dwight and 
Chicago. At Springfield, on May 10, it was mustered into service, 
becoming part of the Second Brigade, First Division, Third 
Illinois Volunteer Infantry. 

Meanwhile Streator played host to the annual Illinois GAR 
encampment, and the deepening crisis provided a handy back- 
ground for saber-rattling speeches by men who, for the most 
part, were too old to have to fight any more. Newspaper reports 
described the May 10 address of Commander Schimpff, who, in 
referring to "the present difficulty with Spain, said he was 
reminded of that favorite song with the soldiers, 'There's a hole 
in the bottom of the sea.' It was very appropriate, and Spain 
would find many a hole in the sea before the war was over." 
Bluster and confidence pervaded the air. On the big day, May 1 1 , 
the Streator Reds beat Danville 7-0, two GAR campfires were 
held, and a mammoth parade attracted spectators from all over 
the area, as well as four pickpockets. The telephone operators 
shared in the fun by posting the following telegram in the lobby 
of the Plumb House: "Washington— Two United States warships 
were taken by the Spaniards yesterday— with a kodak." 

The threat of war grew more and more imminent. On 
May 16, the Third Illinois left Springfield, supposedly for Tampa, 
Florida, but arriving instead at Camp Thomas in Chickamauga 
Park, Georgia, on May 20. Here the boys of Company A were 
busily occupying themselves collecting Civil War bullets and 
complaining about the lack of "beer and spirits" in their camp 75 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



(the Fourth Ohio, just west, had both), when war was officially 
declared on May 21. The conflict was far away, however. When 
Sergeant Roy E. Stiles wrote home later that month he indulged 
in the soldier's immutable privilege of griping (about the heat 
and lack of mosquito netting) but went on to describe with no 
little enjoyment the pageantry of army life: "It is a great sight 
to stand at the edge of the woods and see guard mount. The regi- 
mental bands play, while the sun makes the moving bayonets 
flash a silver light against the background of green." 

In the weeks that followed, Company A, like so many soldiers 
before and since, played the army game of "hurry up and wait." 
So little happened that even a rainstorm became news for the 
home folks. Wrote one boy: "Chaplain Bruner said Sunday that 
he had prayed for rain, and Wednesday Major Jackson asked 
him to pray for it to stop. However it is still raining." July 3 
brought Commodore Schley's victory over the Spanish fleet under 
Cervera, but still the Third Illinois waited. 

At least one Streatorite saw action during this time, however. 
Charles Fallon had enlisted in Troop E, First United States 
Cavalry, and took part in the Battle of Santiago. When it was 
over, he wrote this cheerful letter home to his wife: 

I have had some very narrow escapes, for my hat was torn on my head 
and men were shot by my side. . . . one man . . . made some remarks 
that made us all laugh. We had to throw ourselves flat upon the ground 
and we were still laughing at the remark he made when he started to 
say something else, but was shot in the mouth; the bullet went through 
his jaw and out of his mouth. You would have laughed if you had seen 
the face he made. 

Finally, in the wake of General Miles' invasion of Puerto 
Rico late in July, the Third Illinois moved southward and sailed 
on the St. Lords for Arroyo, on the southern coast, early in 
August. Here they had the pleasurable experience of being wel- 
comed as liberators without having to do much fighting, for 
only a few "bushwhackers" remained in the hills. In late August, 
7$ M. L. Opdycke wrote home that, after a few initial skirmishes 



THE 90S BRING WAR AND A SCANDAL 



with the Spaniards, things had settled down to routine. The men 
liked the scenery, the people, and the cheap cigars. Reported 
Harry Trout to his mother: "Say, this is God's country— a fine 
climate and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. All it needs here 
is a few Americans. . . . Tell lather I will send him a Spanish 
scalp." According to Leon Baldwin, the boys were all growing 
mustaches and beards and there was "lots of rum and gin, but 
to drink it makes one think it is oil." 

An armistice had been signed on August 12, but war's great 
ally, disease, was no respecter of documents. Yellow fever and 
malaria were sweeping through the camps. Streator's only casualty 
of the war, Claude Peters, died of fever on August 23, at the age 
of twenty. (Burton Bradish, of Ransom, met the same fate.) 
More and more complaints filtered back to the folks at home; 
food was poor and many men were sick. A special correspondent 
reported in late September that "you can see suffering from 
fever and starvation on every hand. . . . The men have got so 
sick of poor canned tomatoes and salty canned roast beef, and 
their stomachs are so weak that they cannot eat them." 

Congressman Reeves went to work in Washington, as did 
many other representatives of people who were tiring of the 
"splendid little war." Early in October the government announced 
that all volunteers would soon be withdrawn from Puerto Rico; 
the Third Illinois sailed from Ponce November 1 and arrived in 
New York ten days later. And on the 12th of November, at 8:30 
on a Friday night, Streator's veterans arrived via a special Santa 
Fe train from Chicago. The town went wild. An immense crowd 
surged around the depot, and escorted the returning soldiers 
to the Armory down a Main Street hung with flags and bunting, 
bright with bonfires. In fact, the crowd was so great that the 
prepared speeches could not be given. A joyful town was content 
to listen to band music and inspect the souvenir guns, bullets, 
straw hats, and a Puerto Rican parrot that looked "like a big 
Irish canary." Things had calmed down enough by the following 
week for a more dignified reception, where the speeches finally 
got a hearing. 77 



IIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



It had all been rather good fun, and when Company A was 
mustered out of service on January 20, 1899, the men reportedly 
sang this song (to the tune of "Illinois"): 

Sing goodbye to Uncle Sam 

Bully boys from Illinois; 
He can keep his old salt ham, 

Hearty boys, raise a noise! 
You're a brick, dear Uncle Sam, 
But we're out now, you can gam- 
Ble, and we do not care a clam, 

Jolly boys, happy boys; 
Whoop 'er up, who gives a slam? 

Hunky boys! 

Streator's returning Spanish American War veterans were 
greeted by a new sight— and a flourishing scandal. For years the 
townspeople had felt the need of a bridge over the river at Main 
Street. Finally the contract was awarded to the Lafayette Bridge 
Company, of Lafayette and Indianapolis, Indiana, which con- 
structed the span during the summer of 1898. The bridge, with 
a metal substructure and four-inch boards on top, stretched all 
the way to First Street. But something was wrong. It was ungainly 
to look at and unsteady to travel on. Young men in the area 
found that they could create a thunderous reverberation when 
they raced horses across it. Poor construction was obviously at 
fault. Soon the rumors spread that there had been graft— specifi- 
cally, that certain aldermen had been bribed to award the contract 
as they had. 

Payment on the bridge was held up pending an investigation 
of the "boodling" charges. Early in January 1899 a grand jury 
indicted John H. Beeker of Peoria, who represented the Lafayette 
Company, for bribery. The bridge company in turn sued the city 
for payment. While the case dragged on, the bridge itself 
remained a continuing object of interest and scorn. A January 
issue of the Free Press carried a poem on the bridge by B. T. 
78 Keating, with this memorable fifth stanza: 



THE 90S BRING WAR AND A SCANDAL 




The ill-fated Main Street bridge. According to John E. Williams, the 
outcome of the case "spoke volumes for the sound civic spirit of the 
citizens" of Streator. 



There are many imitations, where 

Some millions have been spent. 
But this noble architectural span 

Has never cost a cent. 
And while the old Vermillion rolls 

We'll always bless the giver, 
While we gaze in holy horror 

On the bridge across the river. 



Later that year the city council rejected an offer of the bridge 
company to accept payment of $14,750 (instead of $24,800) in 
return for relinquishing all claims against the city. In December 
the bridge inspired the following news story: 



79 



lOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



SCARED IT TO DEATH 

George Cutler, the poultry dealer, is now a pronounced opponent of 
any compromise in the bridge case. Yesterday George met a party of 
gypsies while he was touring about the country in search of fowls and 
of course he was bantered as to a horse trade. Now the animal George 
drove never created a sensation because of its beauty or its wonderful 
bursts of speed, but served the purpose, for it was used very well. After 
some dickering with the tribe George finally parted with his horse for 
one which appeared to be much more valuable. 

Happy in thinking how he had outwitted the gypsy, George started 
for home. All went well until the new bridge was reached. Then the 
animal began to tremble, breathe hard, and otherwise act strangely. 
When it reached the bottom of the toboggan slide it turned its head, 
gave one horrified glance at the structure, and fell dead in its tracks. 

Eventually the case was decided in favor of the city of 
Streator, at least to the extent that the Lafayette Company had 
to come and remove the bridge. The great expense caused the 
construction firm to go out of business. 

By the end of the decade, Streator's population had grown 
to 14,079. There were five large glass factories and several brick 
and tile works, while local mines were still producing thousands 
of tons of coal a day. Seven railroads served the town, and the 
schools had a total enrollment of 2400 pupils. Many people felt 
there were still too many saloons, and a new menace in the form 
of the slot machine troubled reformers. 

In 1899 there was a new long-distance telephone at the 
Plumb House, "all right" was a term of enthusiasm, entertainers 
sang "coon songs," and women were briefly apprehensive about 
a Streator criminal nicknamed "Jack the Hugger," who popped 
out of dark corners merely to hug the women he caught. 

John E. Williams, writing in the magazine Carter's Monthly, 
summed up the town this way: 

Streator, Illinois, is not a beautiful city. It is a town in the making; 

not yet a finished product. Its wealth and energies are devoted to 

80 deepening and broadening the foundations of its industrial life, rather 



THE 90S BRING WAR AND A SCANDAL 



than to smoothing out the wrinkles of toil from its face or adorning 
itself with the fruits of its labor. It is still in its iron age; its golden 
age is yet to come. The rude framework that supports the social fabric 
stands out bare and grim, as yet uncovered by the accretions which in 
older cities soften and mellow, if they do not conceal, the rough beams 
which knit the structure together; and the play of those elemental 
energies which propel the industrial mechanism and thereby vivify and 
vitalize the social life, are still plainly visible. . . . 

The gilded youth of the second generation, who wastes in idle 
elegance the earnings of his father's toil, has hardly made his appearance 
here as yet. The men who made the city are still in command. The 
gospel of work is everywhere not only preached but practiced. . . . 
There is no leisure class . . . Social affinity has not crystallized into 
social caste. . . . Streator ... is the product of native forces working 
from within outward. Unlike made-to-order towns of the Pullman type, 
its growth has been spontaneous. ... It is, therefore, an indigenous 
product, as much the creature of its own organic potency and environ- 
ment as the flower that blooms by the wayside or the trees that adorn 
its parks. 

In the barer language of today, Streator's rough edges were 
still very much in evidence. But the 90's had brought some change, 
and the town was more sober and more mature as it stood on 
the brink of a new century. 



81 



CHAPTER SIX 



William Reiferscheid and his airship. Only the frame 



is shown. 




1 900-1 909 



A NEW CENTURY, 
NEW DEVELOPMENTS 



aid Mr. Dooley, whom everyone seemed to be reading in 
1900: 

Prosperity is th' buckho now. Barrin' a sthrike at the stock-yards an' 
a hold-up here an' there, Prosperity has come leapin' in as if it had 
jumped fr'm a springboard. Th' mills are opened, th' factories are goin' 
to go, th' railroads are watherin' stocks, long processions iv workin'men 
are marchin' fr'm th' pay-car to their peaceful saloons, their wives 
are takin' in washin' again, th' price iv wheat is goin' up an' down, 
creditors are beginnin' to sue debtors; an' thus all th' wurruld is merry 
with th' on'y rational enjoyments iv life. 

And so it was in Streator in the early days of the 20th 
century. The even rhythm of life seemed to proceed with regu- 
larity, even monotony. But changes did occur, some so subtle 
as to be unrecognizable at the time, some sharply and suddenly. 

Take the year 1900 (when the town was offering 2tf a head 
for dead sparrows). On the stage of the refurbished Opera House 
one could see, among other things, "Way Down East," Mme. 
Modjeska in "The Royal Box," "Quo Vadis," and "A Trip to 
Coontown." The newspapers ran stories on Chinese tortures 
and commented on the case of a man of sixty-five who had applied 
for a license to marry a thirteen-year-old girl, her mother con- 
senting to the match (all names given): "The man is an old fool 
and the girl's mother is a still bigger one." The city council in 
January passed a resolution of sympathy for the Boers of South 
Africa in their war against England and in May received a letter 
from the Assistant Secretary of State of the Transvaal thanking 
the officials— or at least so the aldermen supposed, since no one 
could read Afrikaans. D. C. Murray and Company had trouble 83 



IOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



with silkworms. The store had promised to have 1000 of them in 
their window on a Tuesday morning in May, spinning silk indus- 
triously, but the curious who came to see them had to wait until 
late that afternoon. "The reason for the delay," explained an 
advertisement, "is that they were shipped here by the American 
Express, and as that company don't come into Streator the worms 
lay at La Salle all day, and finally got here by the Adams Express. 
We are very sorry to have caused anyone disappointment, and 
wish to say that the worms will be in the window until Saturday." 
There followed a complete schedule of their day-by-day activities. 

Both candidates for the vice-presidency came to town, Demo- 
crat Adlai Stevenson in October and Republican Theodore 
Roosevelt a month later. The (Republican) Free Press spoke 
disparagingly of the small crowd at the depot to greet Stevenson, 
though acknowledging a larger one for his talk at the Spalding 
Lyceum, adding that he "does not enthuse an audience . . . but 
impresses one as being in earnest." Governor Roosevelt, late of 
the Rough Riders, aroused considerably more excitement. The 
Burlington, IV&N, Three I, and Wabash railroads all ran special 
trains into town, and crowds were on hand to watch the candi- 
date in a 10 a.m. parade down Main Street to City Park. There 
Roosevelt spoke briefly, saying that "The Republican party stands 
lor the honor of the flag, and I appeal to the young men to see 
that the country stands right." Thereupon, though the star 
performer of "Roosevelt Day" departed, the town continued to 
celebrate, ending with a mammoth evening parade that lasted 
until midnight— 5000 marchers, it is said, and 20,000 witnesses, 
with bands and floats from all over the county. 

The year 1900 also witnessed two events of greater impor- 
tance—important not so much in themselves as for what they 
symbolized. One was the coming of the automobile. The first of 
the horseless carriages hit town on May 22, driven by Hi Henry, 
head of a troupe of minstrels. It was reported that 

Hi Henry and his locomobile attracted more attention today than a 
84 circus. As an advertisement for his minstrels it was a huge success. The 



A NEW CENTURY. NEW DEVELOPMENTS 



parade was to have taken place at noon, but "der masheen" was out 
of order, and the big crowd was compelled to wait until about 2 o'clock. 
As the parade came up Bloomington Street past the Garfield School 
the pupils were all lined up to see the queer vehicle, and one little girl 
was given a ride in it. . . . The streets were crowded with people all 
along the route of the parade. 

The following spring, I. F. Richard, an optician, became the 
first Streatorite to own an automobile (a lever-controlled Olds- 
mobile); other pace-setters were J. B. Loot and T. E. Taylor. 
The "machines," at first a curiosity and soon a convenience, were 
to change the whole character of the American small town. 

Another portent of the future was the closing of the Num- 
ber 1 mine. This event did not by any means signalize the end 
of Streator's coal industry. Several mines founded after it remained 
in operation. That same year, the Howe Coal Company opened 
a shaft near Cedar and Water streets. The CW&V Company itself 
was to open another mine— its last Number 3— seven years later, 
on the site of the present Anthony Company. However, most of 
the coal in the upper, or Number 7, vein had been exhausted. 
Digging now was concentrated in the Number 2 vein, some 100 
feet deeper. From this time forward, coal mining became less 
and less profitable in the Streator area. No one could point to 
a single event or a single year as the beginning of this decline, 
but the year 1900 is probably as convenient as any. 

The 20th century, then, would bring stability and a leveling 
off. The population, for example, increased by fewer than 200 
persons in the first decade of the new century; it stood at 14,253 
in 1910. The newspapers began to admonish citizens to boost 
their town, rather than criticize it. And of course civic endeavors 
did continue. New fraternal orders were founded: the Elks in 

1900, the Knights of Columbus in 1903, the Eagles in 1904; the 
Masons dedicated their new temple in 1906. The Streator Inde- 
pendent Telephone and Telegraph Company was organized in 

1901, with its offices on the second floor of the Plumb Building 
at 321 East Main (a new building went up in 1905). The Peoples 
Trust and Savings Bank opened in 1907. 85 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Probably most important lor Streator's coming-of-age was 
the new library, built with the aid of Carnegie funds. Colonel 
Plumb was instrumental in arranging lor the building, which 
was begun in 1901. It was completed early in 1903, and dedicated 
on the evening of January 30, the handsome structure jammed 
with spectators. The newspapers noted that, although Colonel 
Plumb attended the dedication, he was too ill to deliver his 
speech. 

For another era was drawing to a close. Plumb was in his 
eighties, and increasingly subject to the infirmities of old age. 
On March 29 he observed his eighty-seventh birthday and on 
April 8, scarcely a week later, a case of grippe proved fatal to 
Streator's founder and benefactor. Tolling bells announced his 
death and on Saturday, the 11th, all businesses were closed while 
private funeral services were held at home and a memorial 
service took place at the Opera House. 

But of course life went on. For one thing, this was the spring 
when Streator's own inventor, William Reiferscheid, built an 
airship to enter in competition at the St. Louis World's Fair 
later that summer. With the backing of the newly formed Chicago 
Aerial Navigation Company, Reiferscheid worked long and hard 
in Oriental Hall building a giant balloon, pointed at each end, 
from which hung a frame that in turn supported six propellers. 
The papers boasted that "scientists and the most skillful engi- 
neers who have examined Mr. Reiferscheid 's model and drawings 
pronounce it the best and most scientific airship ever invented." 
Scientific perhaps, but practical no. The ungainly creation simply 
would not work. It ended its days on display in City Park, where 
curious and destructive boys made short work of its delicate 
structure. 

Summer came, and with it Adam Forepaugh and Sells 
Brothers "colossally consolidated menageries, circuses and hippo- 
dromes." Warm weather brought picnics, the annual caravans 
of gypsies, fishing in the Vermillion, home-made ice cream— and 
summer storms. The one that blew up on the afternoon of 
B6 Friday, July 17, at first seemed no different from hundreds that 



A NEW CENTURY, NEW DEVELOPMENTS 



had passed through Streator. Late in the afternoon the sky dark- 
ened, a slight breeze quickened, and rain began to fall. As 
people took shelter, however, they realized that the wind was no 
ordinary one. Branches were ripped from trees and debris hurtled 
through the air. Over the sound of the screaming wind and 
whinnying horses could be heard the wrenching and splintering 
of wood, the crash of brick and glass. One small boy herded home 
the family cows, realizing only when crushed in his mother's 
frantic embrace that he had plodded sturdily through a great 
storm that would afterwards be known as "Streator's cyclone.'' 

The tornado had gathered force northwest of Streator, near 
Spring Lake, where it demolished the ice house of the Home Ice 
Company and crushed both a wagon bridge and that of the 
IV&N railroad over Eagle Creek. Reaching the Vermillion, it tore 
away half of the trestle work of the Three I railroad bridge 
(where the New York Central now crosses the river), as well as 
the clubhouse at the golf course— now the Streator Country Club 
—and the Vulcan Works. Then it whirled eastward, destroying 
the three-story brick building of the Stauber pants factory and 
ripping off part of the Dickerman School. It next hit the baseball 
park (where the Reds now played— at present the Anthony 
Company), the Electric Park (a dance hall and concessions at 
the intersection of Bloomington and what is now the Anthony 
Company drive), and the Streator Trotting and Fair Association 
grounds. It demolished the amphitheater and bleachers at the 
baseball field, a theater and refreshment hall at the Electric Park, 
and an amphitheater and three stables at the race track, as well 
as all the fences in the area. Moving eastward, the raging wind 
dropped considerable debris— including a live horse— beyond the 
Burlington tracks, and caused serious damage in Kernan, Ransom, 
and Kinsman before dying down. 

Six people in Streator lost their lives. Though fortunately 
the employees at the Vulcan and Stauber factories had left work 
by the time the storm hit, a watchman at the Vulcan Company, 
Richard Purcell, was killed. Near the race track lived James 
Doyle, who was in charge of the track and grounds. He was not 87 




Croivds of curious onlookers inspect the wreckage of Adolph Staubefs 
pants factory after the cyclone of 1903. Note the stack of trousers 
piled on the ground. 

at home at the time of the tornado, but his wife and son were 
fatally injured. When the stables went down under the fury of 
the gale, Nelson Bivins, Charles Snyder, and William Brown 
were killed. Several Streatorites were injured, eleven homes had 
to be razed because of storm damage, and total losses were 
estimated at $275,000. 

Naturally no one talked of anything else for days. The 
Free Press reported that the streetcar company did a tremendous 
business Saturday and Sunday, carrying over 7000 sightseers each 
day. "Kodak people," it was reported, "were as thick as flies and 
relic hunters left no object in sight that would serve as a 
memento of Streator's greatest tragedy." Some enterprising towns- 
folk put up refreshment stands at the driving park and Vulcan 
works on Sunday. People chuckled over such anecdotes as this 
one, reported in the Monitor: 



88 



Earl Barclay, employed at the Electric Park, ran to the stage as the 
wind came up and hung onto the piano for safety. When the cyclone 
struck he and the piano both went up into the air. On striking the 
ground he was thrown into the Mt. Pelee scenery and stuck. Mr. Barclay 
is badly shaken and scratched, but he is shaking hands with himself 
today. While enroute he lost his coat and vest, the wind tearing 
them off of him. 



A NEW CENTURY, NEW DEVELOPMENTS 



This scenery was not merely a canvas backdrop, but an elabor- 
ately constructed plaster of Paris miniature of the famous volcano 
that had erupted the year before on the island of Martinique. 
As the climax of each evening's entertainment, Streator's own 
Mt. Pelee had belched flames, poured out smoke, and shattered 
in a final horrendous explosion, much to the delight of the 
younger spectators. 

A more serious note was struck in Monday's paper: 

While Friday's storm did great damage and was a calamity to the city, 
its injury was far from irreparable and there is but one thing to do and 
that, to set to work with a little more vigor and purpose. Streator 
doesn't lack for either vigor or vitality and now is the time to display 
both. 

The most important structures, particularly the bridges, were 
restored immediately. The baseball field, the grandstand and 
some stables, and the Vulcan works were also rebuilt. However, 
neither the Stauber company nor the Electric Park ever opened 
their doors again. It was the lack of recreation facilities that 
seemed to bother people most. Said the Free Press: 

Streator is now in hard lines so far as amusements are concerned. 
With the race track gone and the Electric Park, the ball park and golf 
club's house swept out of existence there is now little to do but sit in 
the city park once or twice a week at band concerts or else go and 
drown one's sorrows at the swimming pool. And, when Sunday comes 
around, it is likely that some people will be driven into church from 
sheer loneliness. 

The cyclone's depredations were bad enough, but that winter 
came the disastrous Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago, which 
focused attention on dangerous conditions in theaters and forced 
several to close. The actors in an entertainment called "Pickings 
from Puck," playing in Streator, were ordered by the show's 
owner to disband or go on half pay for two or three weeks. The 
company chose the latter course, but was plagued by poor 
attendance. 89 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Things picked up the following year. A ragtime band 
appeared in the city, along with "Macbeth" and "The Wizard 
of Oz." Victor Talking Machine records sold at Mills and Hupp 
for 25tf and 50V. In 1905— the winter a telephone operator 
attempted suicide by taking carbolic acid, and it was explained 
that "the reading of books of the trashy sort is supposed to have 
been the cause of her trouble"— the Opera House booked "Mr. 
Robert Fitzsimmons and dainty Julia May Gifford in 'A Fight 
for Love,' a scientific and dramatic play" in which Fitzsimmons 
took part in a three-round "glove contest." The Elks Ball in 
February was described as the "most brilliant social function of 
its kind ever held in the city." There was a fourteen-piece 
orchestra, and a railing to separate dancers from mere onlookers. 
In each corner stood a refreshment booth, where "a gentleman 
of color served lemon frappe with cakes to those who cared 
to indulge." 

Speaking of the Elks, they had started sponsoring, in the 
early 1900's, an annual minstrel show that was to continue for 
several years. Some of the well-known "end men" were George 
Hood, Ralph Lindsay, Ralph ("Bo") Johnson, Chris ("Pick") 
Windus, Ralph Bawden, and William ("Kiddo") Grant. There 
were many music groups, the best-known being the Illinois State 
Band, with W. J. Sowers, a local music teacher, as star cornetist. 
The Reds continued to please fans with good baseball. This was 
the era of the legendary Turnipseed at left field, of centerfielder 
Tommy Brownlee, and pitcher "Big Joe" Viskocil. At least two 
local players of this period went on to the major leagues. George 
Cutshaw, born in Wilmington in 1887, played second base with 
Brooklyn from 1912 through 1917, with Pittsburgh through 
1921, and two years with Detroit. From 1915 to 1926, -Tommy 
Sheehan, of Ottawa, pitched for Philadelphia, the New York 
Yankees, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh; he later became head scout 
for the Yankees. 

But it was June of 1905 that brought something new— 

Chautauqua. These traveling tent shows combined intellectual 

90 uplift, entertainment, and outdoor life, and enlivened the summer 



A NEW CENTURY. NEW DEVELOPMENTS 



doldrums of American towns for a generation in the early 20th 
century. Streator's first Chautauqua was managed by James 
Speed and the dining hall was run by ladies from the Good Will 
Church. The Villa Park grounds (in the area later called High- 
land Park) were enclosed with a wire fence, lights were strung 
in, and a tent seating 1500 was erected. By the opening date, 
Friday, June 30, fifty families had put up their own tents as 
temporary living quarters, and hundreds were on hand for the 
Reverend Sam Jones' opening talk at 2 p. m., "A Medley of 
Philosophy, Fact and Fun." The ten days that followed brought 
a variety of activities. There were games and crafts for the 
children and cooking lessons for the housewives— a typical lecture 
offering recipes for boiled steak, cheese fondue, egg timbales, and 
spice cake. Mr. Speed gave nature talks, musical groups per- 
formed, and lecturers delivered talks on such topics as captivity 
by Macedonian brigands and life in Japan. 

Outstanding that first year were a Father Vaughan— for whom 
the stage had to be cleared because of his "enthusiasm and 
vivacity, so destructive to furniture"— and Eugene Debs, whose 
address was titled simply "Social Problems." According to the 
Free Press reporter, Jeanne Passe-partout (curiously enough, a 
man), "the rains descended and the floods came and beat upon 
the tent and still the crowd gathered; everyone wanted to hear 
Debs." The United States, Debs said, must have a more equitable 
distribution of wealth, and he predicted that "when great capi- 
talists, such as Rockefeller and Carnegie, get through with you, 
then you will be ready for us [the socialists]." 

Busy Passe-partout overheard someone remark that "the 
people of Streator have gone crazy over this Chautauqua busi- 
ness." Indeed the enthusiasm had become so great that a "per- 
manent" auditorium of wood, seating nearly 2000 persons, was 
later built. It should not be imagined that everyone in town took 
a vacation to frolic outdoors. Many went to the park only for 
special events such as the Fourth of July celebration, and even 
when families camped out, most men continued at their jobs, 
spending evenings and weekends at the park. But Chautauqua 91 



IIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



was a special boon to the glass workers, who had time on their 
hands in the summer. 

This would soon be changed, however. In the year 1903 
occurred an event of importance for Streator's future, the inven- 
tion of the automatic bottle-making machine. A scant three years 
later, the American Bottle Company bought out Matt Jack's 
Streator Bottle and Glass Company and that same year installed 
some of the new Owens automatic machines. This was of course 
the beginning of the end for the hand glass blowers, but a boon 
for Streator's glass industry. So important did the machine become 
that by 1909, when the Thatcher Manufacturing Company of 
Elmira, New York, set up a glass bottle plant in Streator, it 
relied exclusively on machines for bottle blowing. (The company 
had actually started its factory in 1908, but a windstorm destroyed 
the original building before operations started, and the second 
was not ready until the following year.) 

The first decade of the new century was an active period for 
the business community. Some Streator men had a brief and 
unsuccessful speculative fling in the gold fields of Colorado when 
they backed the Streator and Cripple Creek Gold Mining Com- 
pany. The diggings explored at a depth of more than 100 feet 
early in 1903 but, although gold was found, there was not enough 
to pay for taking it out. In 1906 the Chicago, Indiana and South- 
ern Railroad bought the Three I line, prompting the nickname 
"Cissies" for the road's employees— a new incentive for payday 
fights. In 1907 the National Drain Tile Company, with its main 
offices in Terre Haute, Indiana, opened a factory in Streator. 

Several varied and generally long-lived businesses were 
founded during this period. One was the Gahm Manufacturing 
Company, makers of windmills, elevators, and other farm equip- 
ment (this was later to become C and D Fabricators). In 1904 
D. W. Archer opened a canning factory, which, bought in 1911 by 
C. S. Crary, was in turn purchased by William R. Benner in 1935 
and became the Streator Canning Company. Another firm to 
undergo several changes was the Metal Stampings Company estab- 
92 lished in 1904 by Paul R. Chubbuck and L. P. Halladay; from 



tlalladay 50 Roadster" 

THE RACIEST, CLASSIEST 
ROADSTER OF THEM ALL 




A n advertisement for the 
Halladay automobile. Dur- 
ing its first year of opera- 
tion, the company turned 
out only five cars; when 
production reached its 
peak, the total was over 
five hundred. 



STKEATOF 



>1 REATOR, ILLINOIS 



carpet sweepers and music racks the company progressed to radio 
cabinets and similar products, and in 1943 was renamed the 
Streator Manufacturing Company. 

An important business founded in 1906 was the Crawford 
Locomotive and Car Company, specializing in rebuilding and 
reinforcing freight cars. In 1908 came the Paris Garter Company, 
which employed mainly women and was regarded as something 
of a model factory. A few years later, a local writer noted with 
approval that the hours were nine a day, the average earnings 
$6.50 a week, and that the girls had half an hour for lunch. 

Without doubt the most famous of the Streator industries 
founded at this time was the Streator Motor Car Company, 
established by L. P. Halladay in 1904. The first automobile was 
built with great secrecy in a building on the southwest corner 
of Kent and Sterling, but soon the Halladay car was launched, 
and a plant built on 12th Street (now occupied by TIMCO). 
Most of the parts were purchased from out-of-town suppliers, 
and the 300 to 400 employees of the company assembled them 
and did the upholstering and painting. A breed unto themselves 
were the testers, who took the stripped-down chassis, loaded with 
cement blocks, for test runs of up to 500 miles at high speeds 
over the crude roads of the day. Many young men moved around 
the country making their living as test riders for the many small 
firms that flourished in the early days of the automobile. Among 
those who spent a few months at the Halladay plant in Streator 



93 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



were Eddie Rickenbacker and the Fisher brothers, Frederick, 
Charles, and Lawrence. 

Halladay made about 900 cars a year, at an average sale 
price of $1500. The first car was sold to Adolph Iwan, who ran 
the Iwan Manufacturing Company. About 1916 C. C. Barley 
purchased the company and added a new, custom-made model, 
the Roamer, patterned frankly on the Rolls-Royce and selling 
for $3750. Not long afterwards, the Barley Motorcar Company 
moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan (taking very few Streatorites 
with it), and in a few years went out of business, chiefly as a 
result of stiff competition from mass-produced automobiles. 

As the year 1909 drew to a close, Streator could look back 
on a decade of accomplishment. Its people had repaired the 
ravages of the 1903 tornado. A new library added to the city's 
cultural facilities, and vigorous young industries helped strengthen 
it economically. There were six new schools— North (later 
Greeley), Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant, and McKinley. 
An interurban line connected the town with Ottawa. For fun 
there were Chautauqua and the new "biographs" (with complete 
plots given in the newspapers in case the flickering images on the 
screen failed to convey them). 

Even the disruptions caused by industrial progress were less 
serious than in many areas. The hand glass blowers displaced by 
the new machines found other work in the expanding glass 
factories. As the coal mines yielded less and less, many miners 
switched to other types of work. Some moved on to nearby towns. 

One of these was Cherry, a small community of some 2000 
persons northwest of Streator. In November 1909 the St. Paul 
Coal Company, which owned the mine, employed a total of 481 
men and boys. So many of them were from the Streator area 
that Cherry was known as a Streator "colony." 

The mine at Cherry was a large one, considered clean, safe, 

and well run. There were three veins, with most of the work 

at this time in the second, about 360 feet down. On November 

13, a Saturday, work proceeded as usual, with the sounds of picks, 

94 men chatting, and rumbling mule-driven cars echoing through 



A NEW CENTURY. NEW DEVELOPMENTS 



the tunnels. Because a power line had broken a month earlier, 
the mine was lit by open kerosene lamps, which cast a flickering 
light through the underground passages. About 1:15 in the after- 
noon a coal car loaded with six bales of hay (fodder for the 
mules) was shoved out of the elevator at the second level and 
hitched to a train. Some feet farther along the hay was dropped 
off to await the trip down to the mule stable on the third level. 
Somehow the hay caught fire— either because of oil dripping 
from one of the lamps or from a fallen lamp itself. At first no 
one thought much of the fire, and attempts to put it out were 
somewhat disorganized. In minutes, however, the beams overhead 
had caught fire and flames licked outward at an ever-growing 
rate. The burning hay was then dumped down the shaft, but it 
become jammed there and did not fall to the third level. There 
was no underground alarm system in the mine, and although 
miners nearby soon realized that the blaze had gotten out of 
hand and that the only course left was to flee, men in distant 
tunnels worked on unaware of what was happening. Soon the 
corridors were filled with smoke, flames, crashing timbers, and 
men running frantically to the one escape shaft that remained 
open. 

Above ground, puffs of smoke rising from the shaft were the 
first sign of trouble. The alarm was sounded, and a crowd of 
anxious relatives and other townspeople soon collected. Mine 
superintendent John Bundy, of Streator, was one of the first on 
the scene. (In later years, one of his sons recalled that he had 
wanted to go too, but had been admonished by his mother, "Don't 
you go over there— your father's got his hands full." The boy 
never saw his father alive again.) Dr. L. D. Howe, also of 
Streator, physician for the mining company, went below to help 
but was soon raised to the top and forced to remain there in order 
to minister to the injured. 

Bundy headed a group of twelve volunteers who made six 
trips back and forth on the cage to search out and bring up men 
trapped below. After the seventh descent, the signals to the 
operator on top were weak and confused and for agonizing min- 95 



an? ' 



»«&!*»*. 









^Pf UM£ ' 



Two scenes at Cherry. Feverish activity at the entrance to the mine 
shaft, above, contrasts with the numbed patience of those who wait 
for news, below. In a letter, one miner wrote: ''Dear wife, don't grieve; 
we will meet again in a better land." 



96 




A NEW CENTURY, NEW DEVELOPMENTS 



utes he refused to pull up the cage despite frantic pleas from 
bystanders. When he finally yielded, the hushed onlookers saw 
to their horror only twelve blackened, twisted bodies— men who 
had given their lives for their friends. Along with Bundy there 
were Alexander Norberg, the assistant mine manager; John Scza- 
brinski, a eager; Joseph Robeza, a driver; and Robert Clark, 
Andrew McLuckie, James Spiers, Harry Stewart, and Mike Suhe, 
all miners. The three others, who did not even work at the mine 
but had rushed over to help, were Dominic Dormento, a grocer; 
John Flood, a clothier; and Isaac Lewis, a liveryman. 

After this, the cage was lowered and raised many times, but 
it always returned empty and so was soon halted. Tons of water 
were poured in, but fell to the third level and had little effect 
on the roaring inferno in the second vein. Late Sunday heavy 
planks were thrown over the shaft opening in an attempt to 
smother the raging flames; wet sand was dumped on the planks 
and the airshaft sealed. The town reached the brink of riot when 
those with relatives below realized that some men might manage 
to climb to the surface only to find their escape cut off. On 
Wednesday, when rumors circulated that sounds of thudding had 
been heard below, two companies of state militia were brought in 
to quiet the townspeople. 

Below, meanwhile, some men had remained alive for awhile, 
unable to reach the shaft because of the heat and deadly gases. 
They clustered together in trapped and hopeless little groups. 
Beside the body of a young miner named Sam Howard, a recov- 
ery team found this note: "There are a good many dead mules 
and men. I tried to save some but came near losing myself." Other 
entries followed, and finally, a weak scrawl dated 12:44 p.m. on 
Monday: "Our lives are giving out. I think this is our last. We 
are getting weak." The shaft was uncovered on Thursday, 
November 18, and nrefighting resumed, but those who went below 
returned to the surface only with the dead as mute evidence of 
the tragedy below. As the bodies were placed in tents to be 
identified by sobbing wives and children, the death toll mounted 
above 200. (It would finally total 259.) 97 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



One event brought relief to some and hope to many more. 
On November 20, rescue workers exploring a remote tunnel 
came upon a few enfeebled miners who led them to a small 
group of men that had managed to live through a week of depri- 
vation and despair. The group, totaling twenty-one men, was led 
by George Eddy of Streator, who later described how he had 
been on the surface when the fire started and had gone below 
as soon as he saw smoke. After he and several others had notified 
as many men as they could, they approached the mouth of the 
entry, but found that they could not get out. 

We were blocked in on account of the black damp and smoke; we went 
back up the entry and tried to go out another road and we found the 
black damp was stronger there than it was where we were, so we went 
back into the main entry again. Then we tried two or three times to 
get out on Saturday and Sunday, but we couldn't get out; every time 
we would try it we were further away from the bottom, so we saw that 
we were not going to get to the cage because the black damp was 
pressing us in from both sections and we knew it was going to fill up 
the face and that we would smother in there. . . . We went in and built 
a wall across the second west entry and we built across the first west 
entry of dirt and we were inside there seven days. 

Of the twenty-one who were rescued, one of whom later died, 
John Lorimer and George Stimac (or Stimez) were from Streator, 
and Thomas White from Kangley. Another survivor, named 
Antoniese (or Antenore), recalled: 

It was strange to see how the different races acted. The English sang, 
the French talked, the Italians prayed and the Austrians and Lithua- 
nians wept. Often the English and the Italians would join in singing 
hymns. At last John Lorimer, a Scotchman, was the leader. » . . 'Abide 
With Me" was his favorite song. We all learned it. 

Many of the others wrote notes to their families, and on the 
back of one was found this testament, signed by all twenty-one 
men: "We the undersigned do not blame anyone for the accident 
that happened to pen us in here and we believe that everybody 
98 has done all in their power to relieve us." 



A NEW CENTURY. NEW DEVELOPMENTS 



Although the rescue attempts continued until November 25, 
no more survivors were found. Since the fire could not be 
extinguished with water, the mine was sealed with cement. This 
cover was removed on February 1, 1910, and body recovery 
resumed; the last body was brought up on July 7. The mine then 
resumed work, and continued in operation for some ten years. 

From the beginning, Streator had been vitally concerned 
with the Cherry disaster. On the first evening, November 13, 
a special CI&S train left the town at 11:30, carrying 200 persons 
—nearly everyone with a friend or relative in the mine. Of the 
259 dead, many had considered themselves Streator people, and 
their bodies were moved back to the town for burial. The Free 
Press in November listed some forty-six as "Streator's dead," 
though this number included men from Heenanville and Kang- 
ley, and the list grew longer as more bodies were recovered. 
Because of the mobility of the mining population and the con- 
fused records (some Slavic or Lithuanian names may have as 
many as five variations), it can probably never be ascertained 
exactly how many of the Cherry dead were from Streator. 

What mattered was that there were 630 survivors— 160 
widows and 470 fatherless children— who somehow had to be 
provided for. Private contributions started pouring in immediately 
from all over the nation, with Streator alone contributing almost 
$5000 by the end of November. These, together with donations 
from the United Mine Workers, Red Cross, and other organiza- 
tions, eventually totaled over $444,000. 

Meanwhile, official bodies had gone into action. These in- 
cluded the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, which, 
for all practical purposes, owned the St. Paul Coal Company; 
the United Mine Workers; and the consuls and other representa- 
tives of foreign governments whose nationals were involved. 
Official records gave the following national breakdown of the 
men who lost their lives in the Cherry mine disaster: Italian, 73; 
"Slavish," 36; Austrian, 28; Lithuanian, 21; Scotch, 21; German, 
15; French, 12; American, 11; Swedish, 9; Polish, 8; English, 8; 
Belgian, 7; Irish, 3; Russian, 3; Greek, 2; Welsh, 2. 99 



John E. Williams, whom 
Earling praised for "trans- 
mitting the materials of a 
great tragedy into an in- 
strumentality of a great 
sen/ice to mankind." 




100 



The Milwaukee road, a $400,000,000 corporation, was under 
no legal liability for the disaster beyond the resources of the coal 
company, which totaled about $350,000. If the coal company 
were sold, it would go into bankruptcy and would probably 
yield less than its true worth. 

Into this tangle of legal complications and aroused public 
opinion stepped John E. Williams of Streator, who had been 
serving as vice-chairman of the Cherry Relief Commission. He 
volunteered his services as a disinterested mediator, spent many 
hours analyzing the situation, and conducted negotiations. Presi- 
dent Albert J. Earling of the Milwaukee road announced: "We 
acknowledge a moral obligation," and eventually the company 
added $400,000 to the amount privately subscribed. The final 
sums allotted to surviving dependents were worked out on the 
basis of the English Workmen's Compensation Act of 1906, which 
Williams had studied carefully. The official report of the disaster 
noted that "the credit for the settlement belongs almost exclu- 
sively to Mr. Williams." 

Out of the tragedy came new mine safety laws, more thor- 
ough inspections, and improved mining equipment. The men 
who died, especially those who gave their lives for others, would 
never be forgotten. And Streator had special cause for pride 
because of its own John E. Williams. His skill, humanity, and 
hard work played a major role in preventing the Cherry mine 
disaster from creating bitterness and hatred among the thousands 
of persons whose lives it affected. 



CHAPTER SEVEN 



Sending off the second quota of draftees, September 15, 1917. 



wm 



■ ... ■■'■■ i 










I y 









1910-1919 



THE "BEST LITTLE BURG" 

DOES ITS BIT 



Back before the First World War," reminisces a Streator 
newspaper man, "everybody used to go out to Spring Lake. 
There was boating and fishing, people packed picnic lunches, and 
it was a favorite hangout for kids. We had a good time in those 
days." Even to people born after this period, the years before 
1917 have about them an aura of leisure and tranquillity, uncom- 
plicated by great and pressing problems— an aura destined to 
vanish in the smoke of Ypres and Belleau Wood. To the inhabi- 
tants of a small midwestern town, the Balkan states with the odd 
names were far away, and Prussian generals seemed scarcely more 
substantial than the heroes of Victor Herbert's operettas. 

People in Streator were more apt to be interested in the price 
of coal or corn, the big wedding of the season, or the year's Chau- 
tauqua program. In the winter, though there were fewer stage 
shows, the theaters offered the newest silent pictures and hired 
local talent to provide mood music from the orchestra pit. Sum- 
mer brought the Northern Illinois District Fair, with its exhibits, 
horse races, and "Glad Way" carnival entertainment. For those 
who liked Western adventures, there was the novel Hopalong 
Cassidy, published in 1910 as the first of a series by Clarence 
Mulford, born in Streator in 1883 (he moved as a youth to New 
York State and ventured only once in his life into the West 
about which he wrote). 

More serious concerns also occupied Streator's attention. One 
was the Salvation Army, which had received a great impetus in 
1909 with the coming of Captain Frank Ketcham, an unusually 
energetic and dedicated officer. His strong tenor voice added vigor 
to the street-corner meetings, and soon he was campaigning to 103 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



raise funds to build a permanent home for the organization in 
Streator. Fawcett Plumb in 191 1 ottered the Salvation Army for a 
period of sixty days "the first half of all money realized from the 
sale of the odd numbered lots in the new Central Park Addition 
to the City of Streator," an offer which yielded $4000 for the 
building fund. In September of that year a benefit concert at the 
Opera House— featuring a song titled "Ketchum! Fetchum!"— 
yielded additional funds, and later that month ground was broken 
at 126 South Bloomington Street. The citadel was dedicated on 
Thanksgiving Day, November 30. 

Under the leadership of John E. Williams, the Sunday 
Evening Club sponsored lectures, admission 25^, at the Good 
Will Church (now VFW headquarters at 305 East Hickory). The 
club offered such well-known speakers as Robert Ingersoll, a 
personal friend of Streator druggist W. W. Woolley. The town's 
religious preferences were surveyed in 1912 by the Reverend 
W. C. Miles, who commented: 

It appears that practically all of the foreign element from whom infor- 
mation was obtainable are identified with some church, usually Catholic, 
Lutheran, German Evangelical or Russian Greek. ... Of the whole 
population, American and foreign not identified with any church, 
nearly all express preference for some denomination of the Protestant 
faith. Comparatively few refuse to give information, and there were 
no confessed infidels. 

In 1912 Andy Patterson, the Reverend George W. Stoddard 
of the First Baptist Church, and the Reverend C. A. Decker of 
St. Paul's Lutheran Church organized Streator's first Boy Scout 
troop. There were new farm organizations too: in 1912 the 
Livingston County Soil and Crop Improvement Association (after 
1920 known as the Livingston County Farm Bureau), and in 
1913 the Better Farming Association, which changed its name the 
following year to the La Salle County Farm Bureau. A permanent 
home for the YMCA was built in 1914 at Monroe and Bridge 
streets, the $80,000 structure made possible by a substantial dona- 
104 tion from Mrs. Marietta Reeves. 



THE "BEST LITTLE BURG" DOES ITS BIT 



The year 1914, so fateful for the nations of Europe, was a 
placid one in Streator. In January, the shooting of two timber 
wolves along the Vermillion River made news, and the same 
issue of the paper advertised a hat for the militant suffragette 
"on the line of a German military cap, giving the fair wearer the 
appearance of a lovely Valkyrie." That month Streatorites could 
see the play "Little Lost Sister." This "Timely Play Tending to 
Expose and Wipe Out the Traffic in Girls (YOUR DAUGHTER 
MIGHT HAVE BEEN ELSIE WELCOME) " was recommended 
by the Independent-Times: "Beaming with heartless [?] throbs, 
wholesome pathos and lingering humor . . . should be seen by 
every man, woman and child in the country." The New York 
Central bought the CI&S line, a Ford runabout sold for $500.00, 
and a package of Camels cost 10#. When war broke out on July 
28, the Independent-Times story, "Austria Declares War on 
Servia," competed for attention with a large headline announcing 
the Elks mule race, and the paper devoted much more space to 
the New Haven railroad scandal, Miller's carnival, and Dr. J. 
Blair Guthrie, who, appearing at the Opera House, held out 
hope to men of all ages suffering from "varicocele blood poison, 
nervo-sexual debility and all diseases peculiar to men." 

There were continuing changes in the business community. 
The coal mines were producing less and less; the value of coal 
mined in the Streator area fell from $2,166,000 in 1900 to 
$1,878,900 in 1910, and continued downward almost every year 
thereafter. Though it was estimated in 1912 that there were still 
fourteen mines operating in and around Streator, they employed 
only a few hundred men. Just two years later the old Chicago, 
Wilmington & Vermillion Coal Company teetered on the brink 
of bankruptcy, went into receivership, and emerged as the 
Chicago, Wilmington and Franklin, with most of its assets in 
Franklin County, far to the south. 

Glass workers were still in the throes of adjusting to new 
conditions in the industry. At a bottle blowers' convention in 
Atlantic City in 1910, the president of the association spoke of 
the "trade crisis" in the industry, reminded his audience that 105 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



there was still a great demand for hand labor in many factories 
not equipped with machines, and recommended bravery and 
fearlessness in endeavoring to adjust "to the inevitable, meeting 
the manufacturers fairly and squarely in the readjustment that 
cannot be avoided." In December of that year the Free Press 
noted: 

Fires were lighted on Wednesday of last week in factory No. 3 at the 
American Bottle Company's plant in this city and blowing will probably 
begin about December 15. This furnace contains 14 rings and amber 
glass will be produced. Employment will be given to about 80 blowers 
on the larger sized bottles. When this factory starts all the factories 
in the city that employ blowers will be in operation and there will be 
about 300 skilled workmen holding steady places. This looks something 
like old times and means a great deal not only to the blowers themselves 
but also to the city of Streator. 

The need for new business activity was reflected in the 
establishment of a Streator Chamber of Commerce in 1915. The 
National Drain Tile Company, which had come to Streator in 
1907, in 1917 formed a new company, in which local investors 
purchased some stock, and became the Streator Drain Tile Com- 
pany. Three new firms were the Dependable Company of 1913, 
makers of corrugated metal products; the Kennedy Manufactur- 
ing Company, which began making truck bodies in 1915; and 
the Anthony Company, founded by William Anthony in 1917 
to manufacture hoists, dump trailers, truck cranes, and other 
similar equipment. 

It was during this period, not long before America's entry 
into World War I, that the Streator area had its one and only 
experience with convict labor. The year was 1915, a time when 
the state penitentiary at Joliet had a record number of inmates, 
partially because it was releasing fewer parolees (Chicago judges 
had protested that too many prisoners were paroled there) . To 
relieve overcrowded quarters, the penitentiary sent honor prison- 
ers out to build roads in various areas. For example, Beecher in 
Will County had made use of prison labor for road building in 




Assembling for group photos, a favorite American sport. Above, the 
Elks Minstrels gathered about 1915 in front of their building on North 
Park Street. Below, in Roamer cars, are saloonkeepers and their fam- 
ilies at the CB&Q station on Hickory Street. 

1914. In 1915 Reading Township proposed to build a twenty- 
mile macadam road and, since no private firm could underbid 
the low price for convict labor, the commissioners arranged for 
prison help (and crushed stone) from Joliet. In April the town- 
ship built a large hall north of Reading, naming it Camp Moon 
after the Santa Fe railroad station nearby. A private construction 
firm excavated the roadway. On May 13 the first of fifty men 
arrived under Captain T. G. Keegan and Carl Munson. First the 
convicts laid a narrow-gauge railway track for the steam engine 
and dump cars that would carry the roadbuilding materials. Then 
they spread the base of crushed rock in the excavated roadbed, 
covered it with asphalt, and used rollers to pack the road firmly 
into place. 



107 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



That summer was not complete for Streatorites without a trip 
to Camp Moon. Sundays and holidays were visiting days, and 
crowds trooped in to gaze at the dining hall, the small army tents 
where the men slept, and of course the men themselves. To sup- 
plement their wages of 50^ a day, the prisoners made watch 
chains, fobs, and bracelets of leather and horsehair, which they 
sold to the sightseers for "cigar money." No untoward incidents 
occurred, and by fall Reading Township had a fine new road 
and the honor prisoners were back in Joliet. (Soon afterward, 
however, the warden's wife was killed by a trusty in an honor 
camp elsewhere, and the state discontinued the practice of hiring 
out convict labor.) 

Meanwhile German armies had marched through Belgium 
only to be stopped at the first Battle of the Marne; miles of 
trenches were dug across the Western front; the Lusitania went 
down with 128 Americans aboard; the French held off the Ger- 
mans at Verdun; and Russia erupted in revolution. German sub- 
marines waged havoc with American merchant shipping, and 
finally a grimly determined Wilson warned Congress that the 
world "must be made safe for democracy." On April 6, 1917, the 
United States entered the war. The long picnic was over. 

The "war to end wars" involved just about everybody in the 
United States, sooner or later. On the day the United States 
joined the conflict, Streator's Charles P. Gaut began organizing a 
company of volunteers, who were soon marching with broomsticks 
in a field near Riverview Cemetery. Early plans called for an 
American force of 1,200,000 men, and Gaut calculated that 
Streator's share, in proportion to its population and size, would 
be 180 men. One Streatorite, arrested in Ottawa a few days after 
war was declared, pleaded patriotically in court: 

"Your honor, judge, these Germans got my dandruff so heated up 
yesterday that I went out and got jagged ..." 

"Well, that isn't the question here. Are you guilty to the charge 
preferred," spake the Court. 

"Guilty." 
108 "Six sixty and costs," said the judge. 



THE "BEST LITTLE BURG" DOES ITS BIT 



The Free Press immediately offered American flags for sale at 
only 90^, and reminded Germans in the United States that none 
of them could "afford to be disloyal." A total of twenty-four 
German-born nursing nuns from St. Mary's Hospital promptly 
began reporting to Ottawa in groups of four to take out natural- 
ization papers. John E. Williams was named Federal Fuel Admin- 
istrator for Illinois, and a Streator Red Gross chapter was 
organized in early May, setting up headquarters a month later in 
the Masonic Temple. 

Of course war was not a total preoccupation. Townspeople 
were glad to see the season's first gypsies arrive to camp out in 
the "free pasture" north of town— an unfailing sign of summer. 
Another seasonal harbinger was the departure for its summer 
tour of the Nat Reiss carnival show (also called "The World 
at Home"), which— under the direction of Omar Sami— wintered 
at the Streator fairgrounds and played there to open and close 
each season. The Knights of Columbus presented "The Dingbat 
of Gar," at the Plumb Theater (as the Opera House was coming 
to be called), a show praised as "the best home talent production 
put on in Streator, barring none." An era came to an end when 
the city council passed an ordinance prohibiting free lunches in 
Streator saloons. This was done at the request of the Liquor 
Dealers' Protective Association, which hoped to reduce expenses 
as well as the number of panhandlers. Newspaper readers were 
advised by a battleship commander that, contrary to popular 
opinion, men who wore wristwatches were not all mollycoddles; 
he sported one himself, and would not be without it. 

Streator was also busy making a movie, under the direction 
of Plumb Theatre manager Edward Scheibel. (Locally produced 
and shown, such productions were fairly common in this era; 
of a later effort, made in the 20's, it was said, "it didn't have 
sound but it did have an odor.") The story of "The Wrecker" 
concerned a railroad executive, President Essington of the MN&Q 
Railroad (played by Mayor T. G. Essington); Bernard Powers, 
superintendent of the MN&Q (Harvey Julien); his wife (Mrs. 
J. O. Miller); Helen, their daughter (Marcella Crary); and two 109 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



MN&Q engineers, Jim Hilton (W. H. Jennings) and Jack 
Manning (William J. Sullivan). The melodramatic plot pitted 
hero Manning against villain Hilton, involved the affections of 
pretty daughter Helen, and ended on a predictably happy note 
with virtue triumphant. 

Meanwhile Gaut's volunteers marched up and down with 
their broomsticks. Some got impatient and enlisted; among the 
first was Tad Reno, who, since he was only seventeen, had to 
take his mother along to the marine recruiting office in Chicago 
so she could give her permission. Joseph Elias also signed up 
with the marines, while Lyle Phillips joined the army and Max 
Hepler and James Fraser volunteered for the air corps. But it 
was not to be that kind of war. In late April Congress passed a 
draft law, and on June 5 all men between the ages of twenty-one 
and thirty had to register. In Streator, with almost 1500 men in 
this category, registration proceeded smoothly, according to the 
newspapers. 

Absolutely no trouble was experienced. . . . The young men seemed 
perfectly willing and many of them anxious to register and there were 
not a great many exemptions asked. . . . Tact was shown by the judges 
when ticklish cases were introduced, but everything went lovely. 

One wonders whether the patriotic imbiber with the aroused 
"dandruff" was anxious to register, and whether "everything went 
lovely" for him. 

In July came what some referred to as the "human lottery" 
when the numbers were chosen that would determine which 
young men would go to make up the initial quota of 687,000 
troops. Edwin S. Harrison of Streator was the first man in 
La Salle County to be called, out of a total of 3000. The Streator 
district was expected to furnish 303 draftees, and those whose 
numbers had been called reported for physical examinations in 
August. Streator was proud of its "Sammies" and honored them 
with a banquet in Good Will Hall and a "patriotic demonstra- 
tion" and musical program in the park early in September. The 
HO first fourteen left on September 5 for Camp Dodge, near Des 



Leslie G. Woods was not 
yet twenty years old when 
he was killed in the bomb- 
ing of an American hospi- 
tal in France. 




Moines. Thereafter groups of various sizes— from 5 to 150— left 
every two weeks or so for the duration of the war. 

No sooner had it sent off its first draftees than Streator 
learned of the death on September 6 of one of its volunteers. 
Leslie G. Woods had been a member of the hospital corps and 
one of the first Americans to land in France. Serving in an Amer- 
ican hospital on the French coast, he and three others were 
killed in a German bombing raid. Woods was one of America's 
first five casualties in the war, and was later honored by Streator's 
American Legion, which named its post after him. 

Streator responded with enthusiasm to the war emergency. 
George Riteman sent word from Camp Dodge: 



Streator boys are all making the best of army life. During the first week 
in every company they were grouped together, now their groups have 
been dissembled. . . . An officer remarked the other day that he believed 
the Streator contingent of September 19th possessed a stronger comrade- 
ship among themselves than any particular group in the whole 
cantonment. 



111 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Cooperation was the watchword at home, too. When it came to 
Liberty Loans, for example, Streator oversubscribed every time. 
The first, in June 1917, set the Streator quota at $300,000; the 
town pledged $390,000. For the second, in October, townspeople 
subscribed $862,800, more than $70,000 over their quota. The 
third loan, in April 1918, was also oversubscribed; in the fourth, 
Streator, pledging $903,600 against a goal of $754,750, had the 
largest oversubscription of any district in the county. In a fund 
drive in March 1918 conducted by the Salvation Army, Streator 
became the second city in the United States to top its goal. 
Women worked at Red Cross headquarters preparing bandages 
and toilet kits. They knitted caps, socks, gloves, and scarves with 
such eagerness that a newspaper reporter felt called upon to 
conduct a survey of ministers, all of whom admitted that they 
opposed knitting in church. There was even a small-sized war 
scare at home, or at least so the Independent-Times thought. 

The mysterious workings of the sinister pro-German methods of 
paralyzing industry in this country seemingly were brought closer home 
to Streatorites, when it was found out that a big stick of dynamite 
had been found buried in a car load of coal at the upper factory of the 
American Bottle Company Tuesday afternoon. [New Year's Day, 1918] 

The writer, noting that the coal was shipped from southern 
Illinois (a sure indication of the decline of Streator's mines) — 
an area that also supplied some government installations— the- 
orized that the explosive may have been destined for one of these. 
For those who might scoff at the idea of sabotage in Streator, 
he added: 

People are apt to be skeptical in considering the possibilities of facts 
which seem astounding to them, but in these days, when daily reports 
are sent in from all over the country telling of the effects of explosions 
which are traced to friends of Germany, one should not guess that 
because a thing is local it is without connection with that almost in- 
1 1 2 visible system which has played havoc with American industry. 



THE "BEST LITTLE BURG" DOES ITS BIT 



That winter was notable for record cold; a blizzard on Jan- 
uary 18 sent the temperature down to —20° and brought trans- 
portation to a standstill. There were lightless nights, gasless Sun- 
days, workless Mondays. Stern posters reminded everyone that 
"Food will win the war" and urged housewives to use substitutes 
for wheat, sugar, and meat. The war came closest to most Amer- 
icans through such work of the Food Administration Bureau and 
its tireless head, Herbert Hoover. Not that it was all taken with 
the greatest seriousness. Streator people chuckled over this 
doggerel: 

Little Herbie Hoover's come to our house to stay, 
To make us scrape the dishes clean, and keep the crumbs away. 
An' learn us to make war bread, an' save up all the grease, 
For the less we eat of butter, the sooner we'll have peace. 
An' all us other children, when our scanty meal is done, 
We gather up around the fire an' has the mostest fun 
A-listenin' to the proteins that Herbie tells about, 
An' the Calories that git you 
Ef 
you 
don't 
watch 
out! 

By the end of February, Streator had a total of 527 men in 
service, 252 of them enlistees. William Katus, stationed at Fort 
Terry, New York, wrote to his parents about their drill sergeant, 
who said, "Damn it, men, you drill like veterans! You drill the 
best of any company out here!" Katus went on: "We all thought 
he was kidding and laughed, but he told us he meant what he 
said. . . . And no wonder. Look who we are, and where we are 
from: Streator, Illinois, the best little burg on the map!" 

The men who crossed the Atlantic and tasted the bitterness 
of battle naturally had different tales to tell. Wrote William 
Elliott, with the 104th Massachusetts in France, after five days 
at the front: 1 13 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



We lived in dugouts, which were very crudely constructed, as they were 
put together in a hurry. The huns gave us a very lively time while we 
were there, sending large shells, three and six inch. . . . We had two 
scares from gas attacks, but there was nothing to it. We did not sleep 
at night, as then is when the fighting is done. ... I saw many rats, and 
to tell the truth, they were as big as half grown kittens. . . . The dugout 
I was in was occupied iby another fellow and myself, and was very small. 
There was not room to stretch out and we had to sleep curled up. . . . 
I did not get much sleep. 

Elliott, who was wounded shortly afterward, later received the 
Croix de Guerre from the French government. 

Another Streator boy, Chris Campbell, also tried to pic- 
ture life at the front for the folks back home. In August 1918 
he wrote to his friend Dave Morse, ending with an accurate 
prediction: 

It sure is some relief to be back away from the line for a few days after 
being up there for 36 days, like it was Fourth of July everyday. I would 
like to explain to you, Dave, but I can't do it— you've got to go through 
it to feel it. But can say it is no place for a man with weak nerves. 
I saw fellows that were big, strong huskies, but the continual fire of 
big guns and shrapnel flying around and the gas— it just made them 
cave in. . . . You won't believe it, Dave, but it is just like an earthquake. 
. . . When I stop and think of it, now that I am back here, it makes 
a great chill run down my back. ... I think if we can keep the boche 
on the go the way they have been for the past month and a half it 
will be over by this winter. 

Archie Crouse had a lighthearted attitude toward one of the 
soldier's traditional foes: 

My bunk mate and I make a raid every day on those things they call 
"gray backs." I found about a dozen on me and my buddy found about 
the same on him. ... I know there was one running over me last night 
and if he had stubbed his toe and fallen down I know I would have 
had to go to the hospital— he was so big. Ha ha. 

One who saw a good deal of action was Charles Schmitz, a 
114 second-generation German-American who had joined the army 



THE "BEST LITTLE BURG" DOES ITS BIT 



at sixteen and served in the Far East for six years before being 
sent to France. In a letter to his father, he explained how 

. . . the last time we were in the trenches I called on the Germans in 
their own language to come on and fight, and then told them to go to 
the right or to the left. They got in front of my gun and when they 
were within ten yards of me I turned loose with my automatic rifle 
and mowed them down. 

Schmitz later won the Distinguished Service Cross and the Croix 
de Guerre. 

In spite of such vivid reminders of the loyalty of its citi- 
zens, both German- and native-born, Streator was not immune 
to the war hysteria that swept the country. In April of 1918, the 
residence of Christopher Baker on La Salle Street was daubed 
with yellow paint because of accusations that he was a "money 
slacker." (Baker, seventy-five years old, retorted that he had 
contributed to the Red Cross and had bought a bond, but that 
he had an income of only $2000 a year.) That same spring the 
Majestic showed "The Kaiser— The Beast of Berlin," advertised 
as a "picture to make your blood boil— Every American should 
see it!" The teaching of German at the high school was sus- 
pended, and the Volksblatt-Beobachter newspaper, accused of 
being pro-German, went out of business. The Mozart Club, a 
music group for girls, became the Chaminade Club, replacing 
the name of a "German [sic] composer" with that of a French 
woman "whose numbers are familiar to the girls." The papers 
ran the usual atrocity pictures with accompanying diatribes 
against "the atrocious Hun." 

Late in the war came an enemy more dangerous to those 
behind the lines than any German— influenza. Sweeping through 
the nations of the world, it struck small and large cities alike, 
and hit Streator in the fall of 1918. Hundreds fell ill, and 
the newspapers printed instructions for treatment. The city 
closed churches, theaters, and schools, washed down the streets 
as a protective measure, and forbade leaf-burning because it 
irritated the sick. The hospital was full, and emergency quarters 115 



IIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



were set up in the Elks building with twenty beds and two 
nurses from Chicago. By the middle of October, thirteen had 
died, and by the end of the month Streator's flu cases had 
reached a thousand. Women volunteered their help to nurse 
the sick, and some sacrificed their own lives. The first was Mrs. 
Edward Reinel, who died late in October. Miss Helen Riggs, a 
schoolteacher, and Mrs. W. P. Crabbe both succumbed in No- 
vember. Over twenty-five had died by the end of the war, and 
at its close many hundreds still faced a long convalescence. 

Word of the armistice was received at 2 a.m. on November 
11 by the newspapers, which immediately notified the mayor. 
Fire bells were rung, and Streatorites poured out of their houses 
to celebrate above the clamor of factory whistles and sirens. 
After a parade that afternoon, there was a mass meeting in the 
park where Mayor Essington gave an address, as did state repre- 
sentative Reuben G. Soderstrom and Richard F. Purcell, city 
chairman of the United War Work Drive. 

It was finally over— the excitement, the anxiety, the hard 
work, and the deprivation of war. Of the 1500 men from the 
Streator area who had gone to fight, 28 would never return. 
Still, it was a time of rejoicing. The decade ended, as it had 
begun, on a note of hope and prosperity. The Crawford Car 
Shops employees, sporting on their backs the results of full em- 
ployment and good wages, prompted Streator's nickname for 
the 1918-1920 period, the "silk shirt era." Almost a thousand 
men worked for Crawford in this peak period, and they helped 
set the tone for the immediate postwar years. There were other 
signs of optimism and expansion. Streator chapters of both Ki- 
wanis and Rotary were founded in 1919. Families everywhere 
were learning the joys and sorrows of owning an automobile; 
a Free Press survey made in 1918 counted 537 cars in the down- 
town business district on a Saturday night. 

When the year 1919 ended, President Wilson had returned 
from Europe to urge the United States into the League of Na- 
tions, had suffered a paralytic stroke, and had seen the Senate 
116 reject his proposal. America was turning its back on Europe, 



THE "BEST LITTLE BURG" DOES ITS BIT 



concerned more with strikes at home ("bolshevists" lurked 
under every bed), votes for women (the Nineteenth Amendment 
was making the rounds of state legislatures for ratification), and 
Prohibition (there was a rush to lay in a stock of liquor before 
it went into effect in 1920). Wilson had said, before he collapsed, 
"I can predict with absolute certainty that within another genera- 
tion there will be another world war." But few Americans in the 
hopeful year of 1919 believed him. 



117 



CHAPTER EIGHT 



Victor Olander of the Stale Federation of Labor, City Park, 1922. 




1920-1939 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



O 



ne night in the early 1920's, a busy printer in Streator 
went home and composed the following verses: 

STREATOR ON SATURDAY NIGHT 

We've been used right royally elsewhere, 

In visits to towns of more fame— 
And enjoyed the sights and many bright lights 

While playing the visiting game; 
But however joyful and rosy 

The appeal of a foreign sight, 
We've oft found ourselves a-longing for 

Streator on Saturday night. 

Streator boasts of no world attractions, 

Has no seashore, nor mountain peaks high— 
But while roaming afar, where these things are 

Our people admit (on the sly) 
That New York is all right on Sunday 

And 'Frisco on Wednesday is bright— 
But no place in our splendid nation is 

Like Streator on Saturday night. 

All things unite in an effort 

On this famous eve of the week 
In a manner caressing, with nothing distressing 

To of hospitality and good fellowship speak; 
There's a smile on each face congenial, 

There's the handshake that you feel is right 
The place of which I am speaking, 

Is Streator on Saturday night. 119 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



For a pleasanter and happier Saturday, 
With crowds more generous and kind, 

It's our proud boast— from coast to coast- 
Would be mighty hard to find; 

For Main Street its kings and its barons, 
With our toilers join hands in delight, 

And surely make all tilings alluring 
In Streator on Saturday night. 

Any city may have a feature 

That brings to it fortune and renown, 
But to my notion there's no mountain or ocean 

Looms up like this night in our town. 
Friends— Let's give a toast to our people— 

Whose sorrows and troubles take flight, 
To the love and cheer that's displayed— no discomfort 

In Streator on Saturday night. 

Poets who rave of the Rockies 

Of oceans, of cities, of flowers 
It's one safe bet that they haven't yet 

Witnessed the feature that's ours; 
Because then when their minds are a-pondering 

And in memories allowed to delight, 
They'd find but one topic to write on— 

That's "Streator, on Saturday Night!" 

Reuben G. Soderstrom had come to Streator in 1900 at the 
age of twelve and had gone to work first in a bottle plant and 
later as a printer's devil for the Independent-Times. During 
World War I he was elected to the state legislature, where he 
soon became a champion of organized labor (he was later to 
be elected president of the Illinois State Federation of Labor). 
About the poem he says: "I went home on Saturday night and 
wrote six stanzas in about forty minutes' time. I didn't show it 
to anybody for about eight months because my associates were 
a pretty rough bunch." Mike Reed, editor of the newspaper, 
120 to whom he showed it, commented that "some of it's real poetry, 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



but a lot is folclerol." About his reason for writing "Streator on 
Saturday Night,*' Soderstrom explains simply, "This was a real 
live town with a lot of pioneer spirit." 

Like the doughboys who had written from faraway places 
during the First World War, Soderstrom was expressing the 
loyalty and pride that Streator people have felt for their own 
home town. The years from 1920 to 1940 were probably the 
most difficult in Streator's history, but the city survived, due in 
large part to this spirit. 

In 1920 a typical Streatorite might be concerned about the 
"Black Sox" scandal in Chicago baseball or the vague threat 
of the "yellow peril" in the Orient. He might be building his 
own radio set (complete instructions given in the newspaper) 
with the hope of plucking Detroit's Station WWJ out of the 
ether. He watched Douglas Fairbanks in the movies, peppered 
his conversation with new slang words like "daffy," "vamp," 
and "snappy," and liked to keep up to date on such current 
phenomena as flappers and jazz. As usual, local critics had strong 
opinions about trends of the times. The Independent-Times, in 
a favorable review of "The Chocolate Soldier," took advantage 
of the occasion to cast a few stones: 

In the days of despair, the present, with the "jazz," the tin-pot tunes, 
the meaningless lyrics, the shimmy, St. Vitus' dance, and the plotless 
plots, dealing invariably with bedrooms, night gowns, and series of 
rapid fire epigrams which would have made mother hold cakes of ice 
to her burning ears, one almost despairs in the search for something 
which one can label music. 

The typical Streatorite of 1920 faced hard times, and they 
were not long in coming. One important factor was Prohibi- 
tion, which went into effect on January 17, 1920. The day 
before, one newspaper predicted: "Streator, it is thought, will 
meekly obey the big dry law; will accept without a kick the 
new order of things . . . the new lid will be nailed on so tight 
that no one will care to attempt prying it off." The writer may 
have been a wishful thinker, but he was certainly no prophet 121 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



when it came to Streator's meek obedience. For one thing, "the 
big dry law" dealt a staggering blow to the American Bottle 
Company, whose chief product was beer bottles. The company 
was able to remain solvent; it had been given an extra margin 
of security when purchased by the Owens Bottle Company in 
1916 (in 1929 the parent company became Owens-Illinois, and 
its Streator branch was also rechristened). Production was sharply 
curtailed, however, and many people suffered. Nor were Strea- 
torites by inclination prepared to accept without complaint the 
abrogation of their time-honored rights to buy and drink what 
they pleased. Like people throughout the country, they found 
that prying off "the new lid" was quite feasible, and a boot- 
legging industry sprang up almost overnight to make, supply, 
and serve the alcoholic beverages forbidden by law. 

As in many areas, a great number of those involved in boot- 
legging were Italians, possibly because of the Italian tradition of 
homemade wine. Along Water Street, for example, almost two 
out of three households had stills. Local suppliers began on a 
small scale but some were soon carrying on a brisk trade. A 
former Streator bootlegger describes how he made alcohol: In 
a fifty-gallon barrel he would mix twenty-five gallons of luke- 
warm water, one hundred-pound sack of corn sugar, and two 
pounds of yeast (his first batch, with sixteen pounds of yeast, was 
unforgettable, he admits). This mash fermented for about ten days 
until it had "settled down." (Corn or other grain was not used 
unless a corn taste was specifically desired; the corn had to 
be ground, a chore with which most men did not want to 
bother.) The mash was then heated in a still and run through 
coiled metal tubing. After distillation, which took about three 
hours, there remained approximately five gallons of 90- to 95- 
proof alcohol. A higher proof could be obtained by running the 
alcohol through the still a second time, reducing the volume 
by half while doubling the proof; this "Straight A" product was 
sold only to wholesalers, who added distilled water to reduce 
the alcohol to the standard proof. Plain alcohol was known 
122 technically as "alky"; when colored with burnt sugar to re- 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



semble whiskey, it became "moonshine," or "moon"; adding a 
small amount of essence transformed it into gin. (Actually most 
bootleg hard liquor was known as "moon.") In addition there 
was bootleg beer, called "homebrew," or simply "brew." One 
favorite drink around Streator was "Patrick's Half and Half," 
half alcohol and half white soda, bottled with a hole in the 
cork to prevent explosions. 

Making liquor in quantity required a fairly elaborate 
establishment. Since the distilling coils had to be cooled with 
running cold water, farm outbuildings near streams were sought- 
after locations. One local entrepreneur maintained a continuous 
operation with three shifts— each including a cook, a vatkeeper, 
and a helper— plus a trucker to pick up supplies and deliver the 
finished product after dark. A local food warehouse was the prin- 
cipal sugar supplier, while several handymen in the area became 
adept at rigging and servicing stills. 

By the late 20's, according to one estimate, there were about 
fifty Streatorites in the business of making bootleg liquor. They 
helped supply the Chicago area as well as their own local needs, 
but were not involved with Capone; nor was there the cutthroat 
competition common in many places. As the number of sup- 
pliers increased, the price for a gallon of alcohol fell from $25.00 
to $5.00. These were wholesale prices. Most townspeople paid 
more when they bought from a supplier or at a "blind pig" 
(speakeasy). A so-called "coffee shop" license cost $100.00 a year, 
but when the town needed extra revenue, authorities would 
launch a series of raids and fine bootleggers and blind pig opera- 
tors $100.00 apiece. In general, local officials were content to 
close their eyes to Prohibition violations unless they received 
definite complaints. (The wife of one bootlegger recalls: "I used 
to wonder who snitched on us— then I realized that the mash 
smelled like hell!") Federal raiders were more active. By the 
early 1930's they had perfected the techniques of mass raiding, 
sometimes sending out seventy-five men to hit twenty or more 
speakeasies at once. "Was I famous!" boasts a bootlegger who 
had his share of raids and arrests, "My name was in the paper 123 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



alia time. It was a good acl for me!" To protect their not in- 
considerable investment in time and money, the bootleggers 
were glad to pay a kind of legal insurance, $25.00 per month, 
to two Streator men who in return provided their clients with 
bail money and a legal adviser from Ottawa. 

Most people laughed at Prohibition. Since liquor was not 
on sale at dances or other public functions, those who attended 
carried their own; one Streator clothier liked to point out that his 
suits had "pint pockets." People remember how, out in the rural 
areas where many stills were located, cows sometimes got drunk 
from partaking too freely of stream water where dregs from the 
mash had been dumped. One local brewer delivered his product 
in what had been a milk truck, which still bore the proud slogan 
"Watch Our Cream Line." 

Some fought back. As early as 1922, the city council adopted 
a resolution urging passage of a bill legalizing wine and beer. 
In 1925 the Streator branch of the National Association Opposed 
to Prohibition launched a drive for a thousand paid-up local 
members to further the organization's aims: amending the law 
to allow people to serve beer and light wines in their homes. 

Whether they laughed or protested (or approved), most 
Americans came to realize that "the big dry law" was unwise. 
One of Streator's most successful bootleggers believes that "Pro- 
hibition was the worst thing that could happen in this country" 
because it bred a wholesale contempt for law. In 1927 the local 
paper summed it up this way: 

We used to have about sixty-five saloons, now we have about the same 
number of "coffee houses." 

We used to get five hundred dollars a year license: now we get one 
hundred dollars a year from the "coffee house." 

[The customer] used to get a drink of good beer, whisky or wine 
for a moderate sum. Now he gets poison, and pays five times as much 
for the privilege. 

Prohibition accounted for only some of Streator's troubles 
124 during the 20's. Agricultural prices fell, and farmers suffered 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



from a steadily declining income. There were appeals to con- 
sumers—a full-page ad in a February 1922 issue of the Inde- 
pendent-Times exhorted readers to "just see that one food 
produced from corn is on your table at least ONCE each day"— 
but they failed to accomplish much. As a market center lor a 
rich agricultural area, Streator naturally felt the effects of the 
farm depression. 

Probably most important of all were labor difficulties. 
They erupted all over the nation almost as soon as the war was 
over, and strikes by steelworkers, railroad workers, and coal 
miners virtually paralyzed large segments of the economy for 
months. Anti-Bolshevik feeling, aroused by events in Russia, 
became less discriminating as it grew more intense; socialists and 
labor organizations became suspect during an orgy of Red- 
hunting. Violence flourished in the climate of bad feeling that 
developed. In the southern Illinois coal fields, bitter conflicts 
between miners and operators culminated in the "Herrin 
massacre" that tore Williamson County apart in 1922. 

Streator had been active in labor affairs for decades. 
Through its Trades and Labor Council, according to Soder- 
strom, it made "as great a contribution to the labor movement 
as any city in the country." Among the Council's prominent 
members were Manley Davis, Jake St. Clair, and John M. 
("Dad") Hunter, president of District 12 of the UMW— the 
last-named described by Soderstrom as an eloquent speaker, 
"Christlike, but for labor." Relations between labor and man- 
agement had been generally amicable and characterized by 
mutual respect and trust. These friendly feelings, however, de- 
generated in the early 20's. One contributing factor was the 
announced departure, late in 1921, of the Crawford works for 
Kankakee. In an atmosphere of labor-management hostility, 
each side blamed the other for the heavy blow. 

Just after Christmas that year, a two-column announcement 
appeared in the Streator press. It listed several points— includ- 
ing the lack of population increase, the loss of manufacturing 
plants due to the "labor situation," and the reputation of 125 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Streator as a "closed shop town"— and followed them with a 
"Declaration of Principles of the Employers of Labor in Streator." 
Among these were the following: "No person will be refused 
employment . . . on account of membership or non-membership 
in any labor organization"; "Employers must be unmolested and 
unhampered in the management of their business"; "We dis- 
approve absolutely of strikes and lock-outs"; and, finally, "We 
declare our unalterable opposition to the Closed Shop and in- 
sist that the doors of no industry in Streator be closed against 
any workmen." It was then explained that several of the signers 
had contracts with various labor unions, but that after their 
expiration the factories would be operated on the open shop 
basis. Those who signed were J. F. Morris for the Streator Drain 
Tile Company, E. F. Plumb for Streator Brick, R. H. Green for 
Streator Clay Manufacturing, C. C. Barr for the Barr Clay Com- 
pany, P. R. Chubbuck for the Metal Stampings Corporation, 
C. E. Ryon for Western Glass, and thirteen additional employers. 

Behind this action was a movement that had been launched 
through a local club to persuade employers that the open shop 
was the best solution to Streator's problems. Stanch advocates 
included Ermin Plumb of Streator Brick and George Sopher of 
the American Bottle Company. 

In a town as labor-conscious as Streator, the movement did 
not go unchallenged for long. Early in January, under the head- 
line "OPEN SHOP? NEVER!" the papers printed an answering 
announcement signed by thirty union locals, from barbers to 
sheet-metal workers. After denying labor's responsibility for 
Streator's troubles and proclaiming that "decent labor will not 
stand for scab shop," the declaration concluded, with oratorical 
flourish, on a note of appeal to the union men and* women of 
Streator: "Stand by your guns, stand by your union, it will keep 
you from becoming a weakling, a suckling, a truckling. You may 
not become a plant straw boss, but by God the union will keep 
you free and thus we will continue to do our share to keep the 
state of old Abraham Lincoln the way Abe Lincoln intended it 
126 should be— FREE!" 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



In the ensuing months labor-management antagonisms were 
intensified, and many townspeople were drawn into the con- 
troversy. The Streator Drain Tile Company terminated its union 
contract in January. That same month there was violence at the 
Metal Stampings plant between union and non-union workers, 
and the factory closed down for a week. As contracts expired, 
many union laborers quit and employers replaced them with 
non-union workers, sometimes from out of the area. The Streator 
Clay Manufacturing Company hired several men from southern 
Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee (thus the word "Kaywye"— 
for Ky.— as a term of abuse). Union men picketed, circulated 
leaflets, threatened out-of-town "scabs," boycotted open shop 
manufacturers, and though there were no full-fledged riots, ac- 
cording to a labor leader, "kept the hospitals full." Employers 
discovered the injunction, and judges issued them to the Metal 
Stampings, Streator Clay, and Streator Drain Tile companies to 
prevent interference with their operations. Labor representatives 
complained to the city council that the sheriff was making 
deputies out of factory personnel. They also pointed out that 
repressive measures were unnecessary; with over 2000 men out 
of work, only one union worker had been sent to jail for dis- 
turbing the peace. 

As the quarrel dragged on, emotions cooled and both sides 
listened more willingly to compromise offers. The city council 
appointed a mediation committee late in 1922. Negotiations 
between management and labor were resumed, delegates talked 
over their differences, and contracts were eventually renewed. 
Bitter feeling persisted for a long time, however, and the open 
shop question remained a local political issue for the next 
twenty years. 

An indication of troubled times was the susceptibility of 
some Streator men to the militant chauvinism of the Ku Klux 
Klan. In 1922, there were night meetings at Starved Rock, Man- 
ville, and Ottawa, where, within a circle of parked cars with 
blazing headlights, hundreds of "novices" from the region includ- 
ing Streator were initiated. Aside from dressing in sheets, burning 127 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



crosses, and indulging in impassioned oratory, however, Klan 
members in the area did little and the movement died down 
after a few years. 

In spite of its problems, Streator planned large-scale improve- 
ments and worked hard at effecting them. The new Chamber of 
Commerce early in 1921 listed Streator's needs, among them a 
new high school, better sewers and street paving, establishment 
of a park system, rehabilitation of the fairgrounds, stimulation 
of home industry, and better hotel accommodations. (Local wags 
liked to advise travelers: "If you stay at the Plumb, you'll wish 
you'd stayed at the Columbia; if you stay at the Columbia, 
you'll wish you'd stayed at the Plumb.") In February the town 
adopted the commission form of government, by a vote of 1388 
to 231. By the end of the year, a progress report in a local paper 
spoke of "the high school about to rear its stately building, the 
sewer system under way, paved streets all planned for." 

Another big plan successfully carried out was the Historical 
Pageant, sponsored by the YWCA in 1922 to commemorate the 
ninetieth anniversary of settlement around Streator. (Strictly 
speaking, the pageant was a year late.) Mary Taft, sister of the 
sculptor Lorado Taft, came to town in mid-May to start rehearsals 
of a cast numbering nearly a thousand, recruited through schools 
and clubs. 

On the big day, June 22, stores closed early so that their 
employees could be on hand in Marilla Park at five o'clock when 
the pageant started. The crowd was estimated at between 3000 
and 5000. After a Prologue, in which dance teacher Rosalind 
Hupp played Spring, there were five main sections— Indian Life, 
Pioneer Days, Industry, Beginning of the 20th Century, and 
World War— with several Interludes. In appropriate costumes 
appeared Mother Earth, King Coal, Queen Glass, and Prince 
Clay. An orchestra played for the songs and dances of groups 
representing the various nationalities that had settled in Streator. 
There were second-grade girls as Summer Flowers, second-grade 
boys as Butterflies, eighth-grade girls as Winter Winds. Seventeen 
128 of the Zouaves drilled in some of their old routines, although 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



they were too old to climb walls. The grand finale featured Miss 
Streator (Mrs. Virginia Le Roy) , who delivered a stirring mono- 
logue, in part as follows: 

I am coal and glass and clay. I am the brawn of labor; the enterprise 
of capital. I am broad thoroughfares and parks and playgrounds. I am 
flowers and sunshine and green lawns. I am homes and shrines of 
worship. I am organizations, church fellowship, fraternal spirit; I am 
competition, strife, bloodshed, destruction ... I am Streator, the 
unafraid; born in the bowels of the earth where darkness and grime 
abound; where clay awaits the moulder's touch, the potter's wheel. 
Up, up I rise, glorified through the efforts of my people; who transform 
me out of coal and clay and glass, out of competition and hate and 
distrust into this shining temple of civic beauty. . . . Here I am today, 
wondrous fair, radiant with unfolded possibilities, needing only one 
more element to complete my destiny. Where is Community Spirit, 
the fusing glory of which is to change me from all my sordid past into 
the grandeur which is mine? Come O gracious spirit of tolerance, of 
large sympathy . . . proclaim to the world that henceforth Streator is 
ready this incomparable June day to embrace Community Spirit and in 
her healing love and understanding bind together all the elements 
which make me possible— into the greater, more glorious Streator I 
yearn to be. 

Whereupon Community Spirit (Mrs. Grover Daniels) appeared 
with Education, Religion, Commerce, Recreation, and Games, 
was welcomed with renewed fervor by Miss Streator, and joined 
with everyone present in singing a song written for the occasion 
(to the tune of "America the Beautiful"): 

Oh beautiful for civic pride, 
For schools and churches free, 
For belching chimneys call to toil 
And homes blest majesty; 
Oh Streator City Beautiful, 
God keep thy honor bright, 
Let sons so true and daughters too 
Stand firm for truth and right. 

"A wonderful spectacle," wrote the Free Press reporter, 
regretting only that "some of the episodes were too long and 129 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



darkness fell before the spectacular finale could be witnessed to 
good advantage." The Independent-Times, with perhaps a more 
personal interest (it was published by the Le Roys), had nothing 
but praise for the three-hour extravaganza, and commended 
the effects achieved by the artificial lighting in the last two 
episodes. 

The new high school was dedicated on November 16, 1925. 
Streatorites were proud not only of the building itself, but also 
of the athletic teams that were making a name for Streator High 
School all over the state. With the coming of Lowell ("Pops") 
Dale as athletic director in 1918, high school athletics gained 
an importance they were to hold for the next thirty years. Year 
after year, football, basketball, and baseball teams won cham- 
pionships—both in the Illinois Valley Conference, and in the 
Big Twelve (to which Streator belonged from 1930 to 1950). 
Dale has said that it was not difficult for him to strengthen the 
athletic program, because "Streator has always been good for 
sports and people were interested." Under his leadership, boys 
worked hard to train, and enthusiastic crowds came to watch 
them play— whether baseball on a sunny spring day, football on a 
crisp fall evening, or basketball in the steamy warmth of the 
high school gymnasium. 

Three young men who grew up in Streator in the 20's and 
30's later had brief careers in big-league baseball. Andrew Bednar 
pitched for Pittsburgh in 1930 and 1931; Kenneth ("Ziggy") 
Sears was a catcher with the Yankees in 1943 and the St. Louis 
Browns in 1946; Ralph Novotney had one year, 1949, as a catcher 
for the Chicago Cubs. 

Public golf came to Streator through the generosixy of Andy 
Anderson, a local printer who had a nationwide business in the 
Chautauqua field. In February 1925 he announced that he would 
finance the rebuilding of a recreation center on a forty-acre city- 
owned plot north of town. This land, the home of the old Streator 
Trotting and Fair Association and, later, the Northern Illinois 
District Fair, had fallen into neglect since fires in the early 20's 
130 had destroyed both the grandstand along the race track and the 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



dance pavilion. Anderson's plans called for a new golf course, a 
children's playground, a baseball diamond with clubhouse, and 
tennis courts. Soon came the announcement that the manager 
of the new golf course would be Streator's former Salvation Army 
commander, Captain Frank Ketcham, who had retired to Cali- 
fornia a few years earlier. He returned to town in August, com- 
menting on California: "Well, if there had never been a town 
like Streator, I would say that it's the best place in the world." 
In September, as the new recreation grounds took shape, they 
were renamed Anderson Fields. 

Another indication of Streator's interest in sports was the 
inauguration by the Times-Press of Golden Gloves tournaments 
in 1929. This was the first year that other newspapers were 
invited to participate by the Chicago Tribune, which had initiated 
the program three years previously. 

Sports might flourish, but live theater was moribund in 
Streator. The last troupe to play the town regularly was the Gale 
Players, a group that specialized in mysteries and comedies. 
When the curtain rang down on their final performance in the 
mid-20's, local theaters offered only motion pictures and the 
vaudeville acts that occasionally accompanied them. Gone too was 
Chautauqua, a casualty of the war. But those who were looking 
for live entertainment did not have to rely solely on athletics and 
concerts in City Park. From the early 20's until the Second World 
War, Americans took to the dance floor as never before. Popular 
bands toured the country, setting up their music stands in one 
dance hall after another. Streatorites had a variety of places to 
choose from. They could ride the interurban up to Illini Beach, 
four miles south of Ottawa, or drive out to Del Monte Gardens 
(across from what is now radio station WIZZ) , or Indian Acres, 
about a mile farther north. In the 30's there were shows at the 
new Armory on West Bridge Street. 

Big-name attractions included Wayne King, Cab Calloway, 
Paul Whiteman, Jan Garber, and Guy Lombardo. During the 
"swing" era ushered in by Benny Goodman in the mid-30's, 
crowds gathered to listen and dance to the music of Hal Kemp, 131 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Dick Jurgens, Eddie Howard, and Herbie Kay (who featured a 
pretty brunette singer named Dorothy Lamour). In the 20's 
pints of moon and bathtub gin circulated to "Avalon" and 
"Barney Google," while the soberer 30's brought longer skirts 
and "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" The dances changed 
but the saxophones played on. 

So Streatorites went their way in the 20's, coping with Pro- 
hibition and unemployment, planning, building, and amusing 
themselves. As for excitement, most of that was vicarious, via the 
newspaper and radio. It was a time of "ballyhoo" over "tremen- 
dous trifles," with columns of copy devoted to stunt flying and 
flagpole sitting, and banner headlines proclaiming the latest 
crimes of violence. There was the Hall-Mills murder, the Loeb- 
Leopold "thrill killing," the furor over Sacco and Vanzetti. Holly- 
wood provided a rich field for sensational journalism with such 
scandals as the death of William Desmond Taylor, the trial of 
Fatty Arbuckle. (The Independent-Times blamed the stars' mis- 
behavior on the meretricious roles they played; what was needed 
was "real characters of real men and women, living their real 
lives . . . instead of the glittering vampires Thedabaraizing life.") 
Suddenly Streator itself was plunged into notoriety with a murder 
that made front pages all over the country. 

It involved the family of H. C. Hill, a prominent Streator 
physician. There had been gossip about the Hills for some time: 
Dr. Hill and his wife were separated, reputedly because of her 
violent temper and possessive jealousy. At home there was only 
a son, Harry, who in August of 1927 was twenty-two years old. 
Harry, a slight, blond youth of amiable disposition (recollections 
about him include such phrases as "a heart as big as all outdoors," 
"wouldn't hurt a sparrow," and "would give you the shirt off 
his back"), had a job representing a Chicago advertising agency, 
but seemed to spend much of his. time gambling. In August Dr. 
Hill came into possession of a check for over $1000 made out to 
Harry and signed by Mrs. Hill. He became suspicious, knowing 
that Harry had sometimes forged checks when in need of money, 
132 and decided to discuss the matter with Mrs. Hill. 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



When questioned as to her whereabouts, Harry reported that 
his mother had gone out of town, but his contradictory explana- 
tions disturbed his father even more. On the night of August 22, 
Hill went out to the big house at 518 South Bloomington and, 
receiving no answer at the door, fetched his friend Dr. George 
Dicus. As the August night fell, the two men tramped through 
the empty rooms, found nothing undisturbed, noted the dining 
room table set for two. Then in the basement they came upon a 
place where the paving bricks had been removed and the soil 
turned over. Thoroughly worried by this time, Hill called William 
Robb, chief of police, who dug carefully and soon uncovered the 
body of Mrs. Hill. She had been shot behind the left ear and 
had lain in her shallow grave perhaps two or three weeks. 

Police immediately began questioning friends and neighbors 
of the murdered woman. From an old handyman, Peter Busch, 
they learned that Harry had recently asked him to tamp down 
the earth and clean the floor in the cellar, but not to dig too 
deep. What the local paper (as of 1927 the consolidated Times- 
Press) called "the finger of circumstantial evidence" certainly 
pointed to Harry, and the state's attorney drew up a warrant for 
his arrest. Even more damaging, Harry had disappeared and, 
while his father proclaimed his belief in the young man's inno- 
cence, a nationwide alarm went out. For the next few days, the 
townspeople talked of little else; lest they feel superior in their 
innocence, the Times-Press editorialized with Biblical zeal: 

Harry Hill was not a criminal. He was the victim of a poor home 
environment, a still poorer community environment, and worse than 
all the victim of his own weak and wayward nature. . . . Mrs. Hill was 
not a normal woman or mother. She was excitable, violent, possibly 
unbalanced mentally. . . . The Hill boy . . . had no home influences of 
the normal, wholesome, kindly nature. He did not have a father's 
dominating care and guidance . . . And to crown it all the community 
did him all the harm it could ... It would be folly to attack the 
gambling places, pool rooms, coffee houses . . . because this is our 
responsibility . . . there is such a preponderating influence for evil in 
this town, it is a wonder there are not more youths committing violent 133 




Harry Hill in conference with his attorneys. In front, left to right, are 
R. C. Osborne, Hill, W. C. Jones, A. H. Shay, and Lee O'Neil Browne; 
at rear is bailiff A. Mason. 



deeds. . . t Crimes are not isolated, independent acts, they are the fruit 
of long years of demoralization, and it behooves us to plant and nurture 
the seed which shall bring forth the fruit delectable to all mankind. 

On September 2, police in Seattle, Washington, tracing the 
license number of a Ford car sold there, arrested Harry Hill and 
held him in jail. Harry, stoutly denying the murder, said he had 
been in Streator on the night of August 22, but had left when he 
saw police cars parked in front of his home— his hasty act 
prompted by apprehension but not guilt. The young man was 
brought back to Ottawa a week later and, in an interview with 
William Godfrey of the Streator paper, appeared jaunty and 
confident. "Harry," asked Godfrey, "you seem to be in a rather 
jubilant mood for one languishing in a jail cell . . ." Young Hill 
replied that he hadn't a thing to worry about, and added: "I find 
this place a lot more attractive than the one at Seattle. However, 
it's nothing to go into hysterics about, and I wouldn't give much 
to stay here for any length of time." 

Justice proceeded without undue hurry, however. On Octo- 
ber 15 the grand jury indicted Harry Hill for his mother's 
murder; a month later the trial was set for December 27. It was 
announced that the prosecution would be in the hands of La 
Salle County state's attorney Russell O. Hanson, with Andrew 
O'Conor of Ottawa as special counsel. The impressive defense 
team consisted of A. H. Shay, chief counsel; R. C. Osborne, Dr. 
Hill's lawyer; W. C. Jones; and Lee O'Neil Browne, a lawyer 
134 and state representative from Ottawa. 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



The first three weeks of the trial were spent selecting a jury 
of twelve men (only one, William Seipp, from Streator). Then 
the prosecution set out to convict Harry, its main contention 
being that he had killed his mother because he feared that she 
would learn of the checks he had forged in her name. Hanson 
emphasized Busch's evidence, as well as Harry's flight after the 
discovery of the murdered woman. The defense countered with 
a theory that Mrs. Hill had been killed by a burglar, denied 
that Hill had had the damaging conversation with Busch, and 
called in several character witnesses, including Reuben Soder- 
strom and Lowell Dale (Harry had been a cheerleader while in 
high school). Throughout the trial, Harry seemed self-possessed, 
attentive, and unemotional, although once in a fit of temper 
during questioning by the press, he lashed out and hit Willard 
Edwards, a reporter from the Chicago Tribune. Without calling 
him to the stand, his lawyers rested their case on February 10. 
Four days later, after Hanson had delivered a comparatively 
brief summation, the defense astonished everyone by waiving 
final arguments, thus preventing the prosecution from taking full 
advantage of O'Conor's vaunted oratorical powers. Browne, his 
opposite number in this respect, of course lost his chance too, 
but the defense presumably felt that this was not too high a price 
to pay for O'Conor's silence. 

The jury began its deliberations on Tuesday, February 14. 
They remained behind closed doors throughout the next day— 
a day when Browne, showing visitors around his home on the 
Fox River, slipped, fell into the water, and quickly drowned. 
Thursday brought from the deadlocked jury a request for 
release, denied by the judge. Finally, on Friday, a mistrial was 
declared after the jury reported a deadlock on the forty-third 
ballot (nine for conviction, three for acquittal). A second trial 
was scheduled for April. 

So Hill remained in jail. Undoubtedly many Streator people 
felt that this was where he belonged. His pleasant personality 
notwithstanding, they thought he was guilty, that family money 
and political influence had saved him from a worse fate; some 135 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



believed that bribes had persuaded one or more of the holdouts 
to vote for acquittal. In any case, when April came around, a 
thinner, paler Harry Hill appeared in court only to be released 
on $20,000 bond after the judge ruled that the venire of jurors 
had been drawn up improperly. Hill emerged from the county 
jail with these words: "I am absolutely innocent in every form, 
shape, and manner and I am so glad to get a breath of fresh air 
that I can't find words to express myself." 

Harry Hill was never tried again. Several dates were set, but 
each time his lawyers obtained continuances on various technical 
grounds. The young man got a job at the Streator Motor Com- 
pany, a Studebaker agency, and took up flying. Twice he had 
minor crackups, once he almost walked into a revolving propeller. 
Then, in June 1932, on a short pleasure flight with two friends, 
his plane went into a nosedive just east of the Ottawa airport, 
killing all on board. The reason for the crash was not readily 
apparent. Hill's death, like the event which brought him noto- 
riety, remained an unsolved mystery. 

(Another local man made the front pages shortly after Harry 
Hill, in considerably less lurid fashion. Clyde William Tom- 
baugh, born in Streator in 1906, had moved to Kansas while still 
a boy, later studying astronomy at the state university. Named 
assistant at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, when he 
was only twenty-three, he won worldwide acclaim from scientists 
a year later with his discovery of the most distant planet in our 
solar system, which he named Pluto.) 

Meanwhile Illinois, in the words of one historian, "rode 
serenely upward toward a golden plateau of permanent prosperity 
presided over by the Republican party as fairy godmother." 
Streator's progress on this economic joyride, however, was not so 
smooth. In the mid-20's the Vulcan Works went out of business 
and the streetcar ended its operations. Streator became a one- 
newspaper town in January 1927 when the Independent-Times 
combined with the Free Press. Later that year the doors were 
closed for the last time at Heenan's department store and its 
136 stock was sold to pay creditors. The end of the decade saw the 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 




Workmen and officials involved in a WPA project of the mid-30's— 
repaving East Bridge Street— took time out to have their picture taken 
beside the First Methodist Church. 



final run of the interurban, and in 1930 the Western Glass 
Company shut up shop. 

Thus it was that Streator suffered prematurely from the 
financial doldrums in which the entire nation wallowed after 
the stock market crash of 1929. It was the greatest depression 
the United States had ever known, with plummeting incomes, 
factories shuttered, millions unemployed. President Hoover tried 
to help the situation by aiding business, without much avail. 
Roosevelt's New Deal initiated a vast program to get the country 
back on its feet. But it took time. 

In Streator, the number of unemployed during the early 
1930's has been estimated at between 3500 and 4000 men. This 
high total resulted not only from the shutdown of businesses and 
utilities, but also from cutbacks in the brick, tile, and glass indus- 
tries. The WPA meant a great deal to the town, which maintained 
several projects under its auspices. Work crews repaired streets 
and constructed a football field for the high school. Russell 
Daugherity, who had played football with Red Grange at the 
University of Illinois, directed a recreational program, with the 
aid of Helen Lightholder and Joseph Gothier. (One project was 
a Washington Bi-Centennial Pageant on July 4, 1932, at Marilla 



137 



IOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Park. Hulda Greenberg directed the cast of 250, which included 
Frank Gotch as George Washington.) All told, there were around 
fifteen separate payrolls under the program. The average WPA 
worker was paid $44.00 a month; street construction workers, 
with the highest salaries, received $65.00 a month. 

The town did not rely totally on federal aid in dealing with 
Depression hardships. It maintained a soup kitchen in the city 
barns on Oak Street. A charitable organization, the Red Stocking 
Club, collected contributions in money and kind to make up 
Christmas bags for children. For over ten years, the gay red stock- 
ings, filled with toys, candies, and nuts, brought holiday cheer to 
as many as 4000 children annually. There was even a revival of 
interest in coal mining. Some entrepreneurs leased what had been 
considered worked-out coal diggings in order to take out the low- 
grade refuse coal that remained. This they sold on the local 
market for 50 to 75 per cent less than the "imported" variety. 
(They also removed many pillars of coal, thus causing settling 
and property damage, especially in newer residential areas. The 
Illinois Department of Mines eventually ordered many of these 
mines sealed.) Other businessmen tried strip mining, scraping 
off ten to forty feet of topsoil to get at the low-grade coal that 
lay fairly near the surface. None of these operations made their 
owners wealthy, but they provided some jobs, as well as cheap 
coal. 

Not all was gloom during these hard times. Prices were low; 
in 1933 pork shoulder roast sold for 7^ a pound, Maxwell House 
coffee 27^ a pound. The repeal of Prohibition pleased just about 
everybody, except for a few bootleggers and hardshell "drys." 
When beer became legal early in 1933, Streator "bottle house" 
workers celebrated with a spontaneous parade through* the busi- 
ness district. Later that year the Twenty-First Amendment went 
into effect, and "pint pockets" were no longer in style. 

Even before the end of Prohibition, the criminal elements 

that had battened on it, realizing that their livelihood would soon 

vanish, began turning to other forms of crime. Armed robberies 

.138 increased, with banks especially favored targets. In 1932 Streator 's 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



own Union National was hit. It happened this way: On May 
15, a Sunday, Earl McNamara (then assistant cashier of the bank), 
his wife, their three young daughters, and McNamara's father- 
in-law and nephew returned late from an excursion to Starved 
Rock State Park. Minutes later came a knock at the door, a 
mumbled request for directions, and suddenly an invasion by six 
men, armed, polite, self-assured. They planned, they announced, 
to remain at the house all night and rob the bank the next 
morning. McNamara explained later: "I knew what to do in case 
of a robbery— protect anyone nearby and cooperate with the 
robbers." He handed over his bank keys as requested and then, 
like the rest of the family, tried to relax and sleep a few hours. 
Four of the men left early in the morning, unlocked the bank, 
and were waiting when the janitor arrived at 6 a.m. At eight 
o'clock, the leader of the gang accompanied McNamara down. 
(The sixth man remained behind to guard the inhabitants of the 
house; it was he who would drive the getaway car.) 

At the bank, the robbers greeted the employees as they swung 
open the door, tied them up, and made them lie down on the 
floor in a corner (President William H. Boys was allowed to sit 
in a chair). The men, who had obviously studied the bank 
operations closely, knew that the vaults would not open until 
8:30, but grew impatient and asked McNamara to open them 
with the combination about 8:20. Then, pillowcases in hand, 
they scooped out several packages of bills, totaling $5000, and 
$14,000 worth of gold in $20 gold pieces. While his companions 
opened up the tellers' chests, one of the men put in a call to the 
getaway driver. At 8:40, the five left the bank carrying a total of 
$52,000, climbed in the waiting car, and roared away. 

Immediately the bank notified the police and sheriff, the 
insurance company, and the banking associations to which it 
belonged. The getaway car, a stolen Plymouth, was found later 
that day near Marilla Park. Said McNamara: "I declared right 
away that it was an inside job. Those fellows had too much 
information to have just walked in off the street." The first 
arrests, a week later, confirmed his opinion. Taken into custody 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



were Clarence C. Goss, Streator's assistant chief of police; George 
Kmetz, the day patrolman; and Frank Cingrani and Joe ("Steam- 
boat") Cusmano, local bootleggers. Goss had given himself away 
almost at the beginning when, in a conversation with a homicide 
policeman in Chicago, he had spoken of the total number of 
men in the gang— a figure which he at the time should not have 
known. After cross-examination, he and Kmetz confessed their 
part in the crime and implicated several others, spurred on 
undoubtedly by the fact that, although they had helped plan 
the robbery, they had not received their share of the money. 
That same day, two Chicagoans, Alex Brown and Louis Katzint, 
were arrested. Shortly afterward Charles Tilden, the gang leader, 
was apprehended in Minneapolis and Frank Pierson taken at 
Boston, leaving only one man, Frank Zimmerman, at large. All 
the men were held at Ottawa awaiting trial when, on June 15, 
gangsters raided the county jail and escaped with the five out-of- 
town robbers. The whole operation began again. Eventually all 
the men were caught, tried, and sentenced. Police retrieved 
between $12,000 and $14,000 in stolen funds. 

Not long afterward the First National Bank in Marseilles was 
robbed. In January 1935 a gang of four men attempted to rob 
the State Bank of Leonore. Charles Bundy, bank president, had 
been warned by townspeople, who were suspicious of the four 
strangers that had come to town the night before. The robbers, 
caught in the act, fled and were trailed for several miles. Before 
they were seized, they had killed Bundy and Marshall County 
Sheriff Glenn Axline. Richland Supervisor Charles Seipp, who 
was wounded, died soon afterward. One bandit killed himself and 
the other three were later executed. 

Meanwhile came the bank holiday of 1933, with all the 
banks in the country closed for ten days. The Streator National 
Bank was judged sound enough to continue operating. The 
Union National, however, was kept closed for nineteen days and 
reorganized, after which time depositors waived 35 per cent of 
their deposits (they later received the full amount plus 2.6 per 
cent interest). 



HARD TIMES AND GOOD 



By 1939, Streator— like the rest of the nation— had almost 
fully recovered from the long slump. Its population, which had 
stood at 14,779 in 1920 and— decreasing for the first time in its 
history— fallen to 14,728 in 1930, showed a modest increase to 
14,930 in the 1940 census. A new bridge crossed the river at 
Main Street, where the "noble architectural span" had caused 
so much trouble at the turn of the century. An airport, the 
Streator Air Service, was laid out just east of town in 1937. 
Employment was up and industry seemed to be on a sound basis. 

Much had happened in the world beyond. What Roosevelt 
called "an epidemic of world lawlessness" had turned Spain into 
a battlefield where countrymen fought each other and foreign 
nations tried out the weapons they had been perfecting. Poorly 
armed Ethiopia was defeated by Italy, Japan invaded China as 
part of its "New Order" for East Asia. Adolf Hitler seized power 
in Germany and ordered his army into the Rhineland, Austria, 
and Czechoslovakia. On September 1, 1939, German troops 
marching into Poland set off the most devastating war in history. 
The people of Streator, like those who did their Saturday shop- 
ping on Main Street all over the country, felt isolated from the 
cataclysm. But their peace would not last long. 



14 



CHAPTER NINE 



The Streator Canteen on a busy day during the war. 




1940- 



FACING THE FUTURE 
WITHOUT FANATICAL HYSTERICS 



The wave of the future is coming," wrote Anne Morrow 
Lindbergh in 1940, "and there is no fighting it." It seemed 
indeed at this time as if many Americans stood facing Europe, 
waiting for something unknown and menacing. People in Streator 
read the newspapers, listened to the radio, discussed, predicted, 
worried. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was 
almost literally a "stab in the back," doubly treacherous because 
unsuspected. 

The Second World War kindled a sense of urgency, danger, 
and effort that seemed vastly more serious than the emotional 
binge aroused by World War I. As an editorial in the local paper 
said: "We have most of us lived through one World War and 
lots of us got the fanatical hysterics pretty bad. Let's have none 
of that this time." Possible defeat and the actuality of death were 
present from the beginning. Two men from the area were killed 
at Pearl Harbor— Harold Christopher of Dwight and Leo Jaegle 
of Leonore. At the first wartime draft registration, held in 
Streator on February 16, 1942, it was remarked that "... while 
there was the usual banter on the part of many registrants, a 
grimness was evident, as in many instances fathers and sons 
marched in together to add their names to the roster." 

By May of 1942, according to a Times-Press survey, there 
were 541 Streator men in the service; another 273 from towns in 
the vicinity brought the area total to 814. The town's first 
wartime Fourth of July celebration honored three Streator sailors 
who had survived the sinking of the Lexington in the Battle of 
the Coral Sea— Joseph Teyshak, Edward Bradach, and Louis 
Wargo. Streator's first official casualty of the war was Ensign 



IOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



J. J. Mulvihill, Jr., who crashed to his death on September 24, 
1942, near Norfolk, Virginia, when his training plane failed to 
come out of a dive during target practice. The first casualty in 
action was Thomas Dunn, who was killed in North Africa on 
April 9, 1943. 

This time, unlike 1917-18, the United States did not rely on 
voluntary economies to conserve food and strategic materials, 
but turned early to rationing and other government controls. 
In May 1942, Streatorites registered for sugar rationing books, 
and a total of 14,465 individual stamp books were issued. Soon 
eager citizens were combing cellars and attics to collect their 
quotas of scrap— be it metal, rubber, or paper— and housewives 
began saving grease and used tin cans. Silk stockings vanished 
from store counters (along with Lucky Strike green) , and "liquid 
chiffon" leg makeup was advertised to take their place. During 
Streator's first blackout, on August 12, most townspeople obliging- 
ly pulled shades and doused lights, although a few curious folk 
spent the time milling aimlessly about the downtown streets. A 
local reporter sent out to cover the event found little that was 
noteworthy and, after stopping to listen musingly to two young 
girls sitting on a slag heap singing "Somebody Else Is Breaking 
my Heart," wandered back to his office to write that the blackout 
had been a success. When gas rationing went into effect in 
December, drivers were urged to stay under 35 miles an hour and 
entreated constantly: "Is this trip really necessary?" The cigarette 
supply dwindled. In March 1943, meat was added to the list of 
rationed commodities. 

Meanwhile, in the spring of 1942, work had begun on a war 
project that soon became one of the most important in the 
Streator area— the Seneca shipyard. The Chicago Bridge and Iron 
Company, under contract to the navy to furnish LST's, built 
the installation on 200 acres of land it owned along the Illinois 
River twelve miles east of Ottawa. In a matter of weeks the site 
was leveled and shops set up in everything from circus tents to 
cement warehouses. Houses were built and trailers moved in for 
workers and their families. The first keel was laid on June 15 




The Seneca yard's first ship, LST 197, participated in several invasion 
actions. It is shown, docked and unloading supplies, in the harbor of 
a small Italian town. 

and the former swamp rang with the hum of trucks and cranes, 
the sizzle of acetylene torches, and the crackle of welding. 

The employees of the Seneca yard— a total of 27,000, with a 
record 11,000 at one time during the peak year of 1944— included 
hundreds from Streator and the vicinity. The pay was good 
although working conditions were often far from pleasant. Seneca 
had colder winters and warmer and more humid summers than 
Streator, and many people suffered from bronchial troubles of 
various sorts (losing one's voice temporarily came to be known 
as "Seneca Croup"). The first ship was launched on December 
13, 1942— one of the coldest days of the winter— by Mrs. Harriet 
Williamson, a welder. About 5000 spectators lined both shores 
of the river in —9° weather to watch as LST 197, its prow draped 
with flags to conceal its still-secret landing doors, slid sidewards 
down the launching way. Unfortunately, the waves were bigger 
than expected, and several spectators on the opposite shore were 
drenched. This somewhat haphazard approach was typical of the 
early war effort all over the country. Says one Streatorite of 
Seneca: "There was a lot of waste and hurry, but they did build 
boats"— 157, to be exact, before the yard closed in 1945. After 
launching, the ships were commissioned and crews came aboard 
to take them down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and 
the open sea. 

In Streator itself, the Anthony Company was extensively 
engaged in war production, supplying everything from trench 
shovels to trailers for delivering bombs. The plant employed 
three shifts seven days a week, with a payroll over twice that of 
peacetime. All major Streator plants received the Army-Navy 
"E" for exceeding production quotas. 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



With Seneca and the Anthony Company on the preferred 
list for labor, several home industries felt the pinch of the man- 
power shortage. One interesting solution was adopted by Wilbur 
Engle, who ran a florist, nursery, and produce business. Among 
his enterprises was that of canning asparagus, the delicate stalks 
of which must be picked at just the right time to avoid loss. For 
three summers during the war, Engle "imported" around twenty 
workers from Jamaica, who lived at the greenhouses from April 
15 to July 1. Devout Anglicans, they at first refused to work on 
Sunday, until shown graphically one Monday morning that 
asparagus ready for picking one day is so much waste the next 
(they were paid by weight). Streator people remember the con- 
certs of religious music the Jamaicans performed in the area's 
churches. Later in the war, German prisoners of war were brought 
in to help the Streator Canning Company process vegetables. 

To most people in and around Streator, any discussion of the 
Second World War sooner or later leads to the subject of the 
Streator Canteen. This undertaking grew out of the Parents 
Service Club, which was organized early in the war to pack cigar- 
ettes and supply other needs for men and women in the service. 
Club members noticed that men from the many troop trains 
passing through town on the Santa Fe jumped off whenever the 
train stopped briefly, in order to buy snacks and coffee wherever 
they could be found. Several persons felt that Streator itself 
should do something to help out. In the fall of 1943, three women 
—Mrs. George Plimmer, Mrs. Irl Shull, and Mrs. Ray Eutsey— 
were delegated as a committee to investigate the situation and 
make plans. Many said it was impossible: there were hundreds 
of servicemen through town every day, the cost of feeding them 
would be tremendous, the depot had no facilities. "Well," 
answered those who favored the project, "it could be done if we 
worked hard enough." 

And work they did. Early in November, a canteen committee 

was formed by representatives from each organization in town, 

money was pledged, and the ladies set up a small serving area in 

146 tne train station. (Mrs. Plimmer has been teased ever since for 



FACING THE FUTURE 



her remark that "If we just had a nice table here in the corner, 
that's all we'd need.") Early on Sunday morning, November 28, 
a small group of women, who had made sandwiches and ten 
gallons of coffee, met at the station at 5 a.m. Shortly after 6— 
when the first train had come and gone— they found there was 
nothing left. Hastily they took up a collection, bought more food, 
later ground up what was left of their Sunday roasts for sandwich 
filling, and somehow got through the day. The first weeks were 
like that— improvised, frantic, and exhausting. The three women 
who had organized it rarely left the canteen for the first month. 

Gradually systems were devised to make things simpler. The 
high school contributed a coffee urn; more supervisors volun- 
teered; a depot storeroom was furnished for making coffee and 
sandwiches. Groups not only from Streator but from all over the 
area, as far away as Spring Valley on the north and Flanagan 
on the south, took "days," contributing food, money, and workers. 
(In the entire history of the Canteen, only one of these groups 
failed to show up.) One farmer donated a hog. A tag day in 
June 1944 raised $1300 to pay for a kitchen at the back of the 
depot. At first volunteers walked through the trains with food, 
but the practice was discontinued when one of the women barely 
got off a train before it pulled out of the station. Later local 
carpenters devised cigarette-girl carriers, and groups of women 
stationed themselves with these at intervals along the train plat- 
form. Besides beverages and sandwiches, they had special seasonal 
treats— Easter eggs, Thanksgiving turkey, fresh fruit in summer. 

The Canteen fed thousands of G.I. 's— soldiers, sailors, and 
marines from all corners of the United States. They laughed, 
cracked jokes, made passes at the pretty girls; at least one 
romance— between a soldier and a hostess from Pontiac who 
wrote her name on the paper sandwich bag she gave him— ended 
in marriage. One train was full of boys who piled out of the 
cars in wonderment at their first sight of snow. As early as 
December 1943, the women were serving 6700 a week. By April 
1944 the daily record hit 3650, and throughout that year the 
monthly average stood between 40,000 and 50,000, One day 147 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Claudette Colbert and Shirley Temple stepped down for a breath 
of fresh air; another day it was Amos and Andy. Wrote a sailor: 
"It was the only stop on our whole trip from San Francisco to 
Great Lakes where our boys received this sort of welcome." And 
an army sergeant sent a note: "Streator will always hold a warm 
spot in the hearts of service men who are fortunate enough to 
stop over with you for just a few minutes." Hundreds of trains 
and thousands of cups of coffee after the chaotic first day, the 
Canteen closed on May 28, 1946. It had meant a great deal to 
the town. As one faithful worker put it: "People came from miles 
away to help, and Streator became known all over the world." 

Meanwhile Streator men were struggling through the mud 
of Europe and battling the Japanese and boredom in the Pacific. 
On the home front people learned the intricacies of the priority 
system, wore short skirts and cuffless trousers to conserve fabric, 
bought war stamps and bonds. Ever-busy press agents persuaded 
movie actress Veronica Lake to uncover both her eyes (as some 
sort of safety example for factory workers) and Ann Sheridan 
to announce that she was packing away her sweaters for the dura- 
tion, remarking primly that "big sweaters on little girls cause 
accidents, little sweaters on big girls make men whistle." Not that 
everybody saw eye to eye on just what the war effort should entail. 
There were strikes and shutdowns, and Private M.L.C. wrote 
angrily from North Africa: 

Say, what's the matter with all the people back there? Going on strikes 
and raising hell. All they are doing is prolonging the war. I read in the 
papers of coal strikes and strikes of all sorts. Maybe they would like 
to be here in my shoes. . . . I'll trade them and give them five years 
of my life to boot. They are acting like a bunch of kids. Do they know 
there's a war on? 

As to letters, wartime censorship deprived them of substance, 

but it had no effect on quantity. For example, a local men's 

clothing merchant, Frank Scharfenberg, began writing to "a 

few fellows that had worked in the store" and soon found himself 

148 receiving and answering up to fifty letters a day. He put a special 



FACING THE FUTURE 



desk and mailbox in his store and sent mail free for people who 
used them. Scharfenberg's policy was to send good news only, 
keeping it "folksy, neighborly, optimistic, boosting." He sent 
news of the town and of other service men and arranged for 
get-togethers when he heard of Streatorites stationed in neigh- 
boring areas. Beginning in January 1944, a weekly column in 
the Times-Press, "A Letter from Home," contained excerpts 
from the letters (the name was changed to "Streator Sidelights" 
after the war). When it was all over, Scharfenberg estimated that 
he had written more than 21,000 cards and letters. 

The war ended officially with Japan's surrender on August 14, 
1945, and Streator's victory celebration began seconds after the 
formal announcement. Although Mayor Halfpenny ordered the 
taverns closed almost immediately, his move had "little visible 
effect on the merrymakers," who jitterbugged and conga'd down 
the city streets. Statistics tell only one story: 3000 service people 
from Streator, 83 of them women; approximately 1800 draftees, 
1200 volunteers; 83 men killed, hundreds wounded. What the 
war meant— to the people involved and the world it had changed 
—only time would reveal. 



In the decades after 1945, Americans grew used to a state 
that was neither peace nor war, but something in between. 
A newly harnessed force, atomic energy, frightened even the men 
who understood it. There were other new developments— tele- 
vision, guided missiles, artificial satellites, space flights, mccarthy- 
ism, Freedom Riders, a Beat Generation. 

In writing about the recent past and Streator's part in it, 
one can only summarize a few events and let time place the 
correct emphasis upon them. Naturally enough, many of the 
things that happened reflected trends that were affecting the 
whole nation. Industrial expansion was one of these. Several new 
firms located in the town. Three came in 1946 alone— Knoedler 
Manufacturers, which made tractor seats and farm implements; 149 



IIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



F. X. Neumann and Sons, manufacturers of concrete blocks, metal 
window frames, cement, and waterproofing compounds; and a 
Streator plant of the Smith-Douglass Company, a fertilizer con- 
cern with plants throughout the Midwest. The following year 
Thos. J. Lipton opened a tea-processing plant in Streator, and 
in 1948 J. L. Read established a factory for the manufacture of 
salad dressings. An old Streator industry, the Streator Brick 
Company, was sold to the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company of 
St. Louis in 1952, and became a division of the larger firm. 
In 1957 TIMCO (the Transportation Industrial Manufacturing 
Company) , with its head offices in Chicago, opened a plant in 
Streator for the manufacture of refrigerator car interiors, alu- 
minum siding, and fire-resistant aluminum foil. 

Even before the war was over, Streatorites had initiated a 
new project, the Streator Hobby Show, that grew in scope and 
became a popular annual event— mirroring a new interest in 
home arts and crafts that was generally called the "do-it-yourself 
craze." The show, first held in 1945, was set up as a showcase 
for local hobbyists in all fields, the only restriction being a ban 
on live pets. The Streator Hobby Council, formed the following 
year under the presidency of Carl Hoban, included twenty-four 
members, each representing a special hobby. The show is held 
in the Illinois State Armory for three days and nights on the 
third weekend in April, unless Easter interferes. By 1962, it 
had grown to include 300 exhibits, and required twelve truckloads 
of equipment— tables, guard rails, and a registration desk— stored 
between shows at Charles and Ammon Defenbaugh's farm south 
of town. Each year there is a special theme, generally a hobby 
field such as music or rock-collecting. The show is free, though 
guests (averaging between 10,000 and 15,000 each year) make 
small contributions to help defray costs. 

There were setbacks in these years, due chiefly to disasters, 
natural and otherwise. One problem Streator had faced periodi- 
cally for many years involved its water supply. Almost from its 
beginning in the 1880's, the Streator Aqueduct Company (after 
ISO 1939, the Northern Illinois Water Corporation) had had troubles 



FACING THE FUTURE 



with flooding and water pollution. Particularly severe storms in 
1933 had caused floods that cut off service for several days. In 
1951 came the worst flood in the city's history. 

During the spring and summer, the Mississippi, Arkansas, 
and Big Muddy rivers had been among those that overflowed 
their banks, and tornadoes struck several areas. On Monday, 
July 9, heavy rains in the Streator region transformed the small 
and placid Vermillion into a broad torrent. Reaching a height 
of eighteen feet, it flooded farm lands and west side residential 
areas, and thirty families along Bridge, Murdock, and First streets 
had to be evacuated. By the time the river crested at 5 a.m. 
Tuesday, the pumping station had suffered an estimated $200,000 
worth of damage, and the city's water supply was shut off. 

Acting Mayor Robert Drysdale declared a state of emer- 
gency, and immediately plans were made for water to be sent 
in from Ottawa, Oglesby, and Springfield. State Senator Fred J. 
Hart was instrumental in securing the aid of the National Guard, 
which hauled water and protected evacuated homes. For several 
days families walked and rode to City Park, carrying receptacles 
of all sorts, to replenish their water supply. Free typhoid shots 
were available in the high school gym. Meanwhile volunteer 
crews worked around the clock to clear debris out of the pumping 
station. On July 14 the water was turned on again, although 
residents were warned not to drink it without boiling; on July 24 
the water was finally declared safe for drinking. Soon afterward 
the water company made plans to build a new plant on the hill 
above the old one. 

The year 1958 witnessed a series of disasters that earned for 
it a place alongside the years 1887, 1897, 1903, and 1909. The 
month was July, which seems to have seen more than its share 
of Streator catastrophes. In the early hours of Monday morning, 
July 14, a downpour soaked the town, inundating about fifty 
homes. The sewage disposal system was damaged, and the cost of 
rehabilitating it estimated at $250,000. (The La Salle-Livingston 
county region was subsequently designated a disaster area by 
the Small Business Administration.) 151 



BIOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Only a few hours later, while people were still assessing the 
damages, a tremendous explosion rocked the downtown area and 
dense clouds of smoke and licking flames soon enveloped the 
Williams Hardware building at 115 South Vermillion. In the 
words of an eyewitness, veteran clerk Joseph Kmetz: 

I was standing near the north door leading to the alley, when all of a 
sudden there was a terrific blast from above. In another second, I was 
being showered with brick, mortar and all kinds of other debris. I heard 
screams as I saw what looked like tons of stuff pouring down on the 
mezzanine floor and I heard the screams of the women who were working 
there in the office. It was a terrible sight, and as it looked like the whole 
top of the building was giving in, I ran outside. 

Firemen rushed to the site and spent hours getting the fire under 
control. There were six fatalities, including Donald Williams, the 
owner, and his sixteen-year-old son Allen. The building— one of 
the largest hardware stores in the state— had to be razed, and 
the loss was estimated at $500,000. An inquest a few days later 
was unable to reach definite conclusions, but indications seemed 
to point to a possible gasoline leak in the basement, and there 
were some who felt the management to have been negligent in 
repairing it. 

Within two weeks, the few people in downtown Streator 
during the dinner hour heard sounds of crashing and splintering, 
and rushed down Main Street to find that the old Armory, on 
the corner of Bloomington, had suddenly collapsed. Because of 
the time of day, there were no casualties. The building was soon 
pulled down and a Woolworth's store built in its place. 

Between 1940 and 1950, Streator underwent its most sizable 
population growth since 1900— part of a nationwide phenomenon 
known as the "population explosion." The mid-century census 
total for the town reached 16,469 and a corresponding increase in 
the city's unincorporated areas brought the estimated population 
of "Greater Streator" to 22,500. Several new developments accom- 
panied this growth. The Community Chest was organized in 1949, 
152 as well as the Visiting Nurse Association. A Little League base- 



FACING THE FUTURE 



ball program was launched in 1952. The year following, Streator 
had its own radio station, WIZZ, with broadcasting facilities 
north of the city in "The Pines" restaurant building. (Television 
was still a new innovation and most people went to taverns to 
watch it, but within a year or two the tall ungainly aerials began 
sprouting from the town's housetops.) The city improved the 
downtown area in 1955 by installing mercury vapor lights on 
Main Street from the bridge to the Santa Fe tracks, on Bloom- 
ington from Bridge to Elm streets, and a block each direction 
from Main on Park, Monroe, Vermillion, and Sterling. That 
same year it built two handsome new schools— Northlawn on East 
First Street and Oakland in Oakland Park. In 1958 it opened a 
municipal swimming pool on West Main. 

During the same summer, a group of townspeople inter- 
ested in the theater, led to Mrs. James Peterson, the high school 
speech instructor, and Dr. William Schiffbauer, met and organ- 
ized the Community Players. The sole production of that year, 
"Harvey," drew good crowds to the high school auditorium, and 
the group did two old favorites the next summer— "Night Must 
Fall" and "Blithe Spirit." Through the generosity of Mrs. Wilbur 
Engle, who donated an unused produce warehouse west of town, 
the Players had their own theater for their third season, in 1960. 
They offered a great variety of productions at the Engle Lane 
Theatre— readings, one-act plays, evenings of "Music from Broad- 
way," and two original musical comedies by a local author- 
musician, James Smith. 

There were other changes. Expansion and building programs 
were carried out at St. Mary's, St. Anthony's, and St. Stephen's 
schools. New churches went up all over town. Seven-Day Advent- 
ists, largely with their own hands, built a church on the south- 
east corner of Park and Bronson which was debt-free when dedi- 
cated in 1954. Trinity Lutheran Church, at East Main and 
Route 17, dedicated its new building in 1954 and added a 
parsonage across the street two years later. Also east of Streator 
on Route 17, the redwood Church of the Nazarene was completed 
in 1958. St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church bought the old 153 



UOGRAPHY IN BLACK 



Plumb property at Broadway and Wasson and, after razing the 
house, finished its large new structure in 1959. In 1961 work was 
begun on a new St. Mary's Hospital, with only one section of 
the old structure retained for records and offices. 

Streator played a part in Cold War preparedness efforts. 
Beginning in 1956, the town has served as headquarters for men 
in training as DEW line operators for the radar installations 
across northern Canada. The project is operated by the Federal 
Electric Corporation, a subsidiary of IT&T, under the jurisdic- 
tion of the Air Force. At the actual training site, located six miles 
southwest of town, installations simulate a main DEW line sta- 
tion. In town, the project has leased the Columbia Hotel for 
classrooms and living quarters, and the 110 students in each 
training course spend ten weeks there before beginning their 
eighteen-month stints on the line itself. Approximately 60 per 
cent of the men are from Canada and the British Isles. Because 
of their intensive training and temporary residence, they have 
kept to themselves and, except for special events such as Christ- 
mas, little effort has been made to integrate them in Streator 
activities. 

As Streator neared its hundredth birthday, its population 
stood at 16,868, according to the 1960 census. Statistics showed 
that it had an annual birth rate of 900, and that there were 31 
churches, over 50 miles of streets, almost 10,000 telephones, and 
about 6500 housing units. Its people had lived through violent 
change, and their horizons had been extended far beyond their 
town and state, beyond their own country. In a time of vast 
metropolitan complexes, its own existence as an independent 
entity sometimes appeared in doubt. But the drive ^and spirit 
of its people had helped it survive when many neighboring towns 
had withered and died. Its future seemed assured as long as 
people could say, as did one man who had lived there all his life: 
"This is a wonderful place. I grew up in Streator and so did my 
kids. My home is here, my interests are here. It's a democratic 
town and a great community." 
154 



INDEX OF PERSONAL NAMES 



Aker, C, 33 
Ammons, Isaac, 25 
Anderson, Andy, 67, 130 
Anthony, William, 106 
Antoniese, 98 
Archer, D. W., 92 
Arthur, John, 46 
Axline, Glenn, 140 

Baker, A. J., 30 
Baker, Christopher, 115 
Baldwin, Elmer, 13, 15 
Baldwin, Leon, 77 
Barackman family, 8 
Barclay, Earl, 88 
Barley, C. C, 94 
Barlow, J. C, 67 
Barr, C. C, 65, 126 
Barrackman, Milam J., 25 
Bawden, Ralph, 90 
Bazore, Cal, 25 
Bazore, George, 8 
Bednar, Andrew, 130 
Beeker, John H., 78 
Benner, William R., 92 
Bergen, Abraham S., 10 
Bivins, Nelson, 88 
Black Hawk, 8, 10 
Bowman, William, 1 1 
Boys, William H., 139 
Bradach, Edward, 143 
Bradish, Burton, 77 
Broomfield, Samuel, 11, 13 
Bronson, George, 12, 46 
Bronson, William, 10 
Brown, Alex, 140 
Brown, William, 88 
Brown family, 11 
Browne, Lee O'Neil, 134, 135 
Brownlee, Tommy, 90 
Bundy, Charles, 140 
Bundy, John, 95 
Burke, Pat, 70 
Busch, Adolphus, 43 
Busch, Peter, 133, 135 
Bussard family, 1 1 



Calder, James, 11 
Campbell, Chris, 114 
Campbell, James, 25 
Campbell, John C, 25, 26, 46 
Campbell, Maggie, 26 
Christopher, Harold, 143 
Chubbuck, Paul R., 92, 126 
Cingrani, Frank, 140 
Clark, Robert, 97 
Coleman, John, 8 
Collins, Eliza, 10 
Cooper, William, 25 
Copes, Thomas, 1 1 
Crabbe, W. P., Mrs., 116 
Cramer, Elizabeth, 10 
Crary, C. S., 92 
Crary, Marcella, 109 
Croswell, Thomas, 35 
Crouse, Archie, 114 
Cunliffe, Barcroft, 16 
Cusmano, Joe, 140 
Cutler, George, 80 
Cutshaw, George, 90 

Dale, Lowell, 130, 135 
Dalton, F. D., 35 
Daniels, Grover, Mrs., 129 
Daugherity, Russell, 137 
Davis, Manley, 125 
Debs, Eugene, 91 
Decker, C. A., 104 
Defenbaugh, Ammon, 150 
Defenbaugh, Elijah, 18 
Defenbaugh, Samuel, 150 
Defenbaugh family, 11 
Deisher, N. H., 41 
Densmore, George, 1 1 
Dent, John O., 26 
Dey, Clark S., 26 
Dicus, George, 67, 133 
Dixon, Charles, 11 
Donagho, M. C, Mrs., 37 
Donnell, William, 10 
Dormento, Dominic, 97 
Doyle, James, 87 
Droppa, Cyril, 44 



Drysdale, Robert, 151 
Duncan, Robert, 24 
Dunn, Thomas, 144 

Earling, Albert J., 100 

Eddy, George, 98 

Elias, Joseph, 110 

Elliott, William, 113-14 

Engle, Wilbur, 146 

Engle, Wilbur, Mrs., 153 

Eutsey, Ray, Mrs., 146 

Essington, T. G., 109 

Evans, E., 35 

Evans, George ("Honey Boy") , 68-69 

Fallon, Charles, 76 
Flood, John, 97 
Fraser, James, 110 
Fulwider, John, 10, 12 
Funk, David, 25 



Gaut, Charles P. 



108 



Geraghty, J. J., 48 
Gleim, Fred, 16 
Godfrey, William, 134 
Goss, Clarence C, 140 
Gotch, Frank, 138 
Gothier, Joseph, 137 
Gum, Norton, 10 
Grant, William, 90 
Green, R. H., 126 
Greenberg, Hulda, 138 

Hackett, Reuben, 10 
Halfpenny, Thomas, 149 
Hall, Agnes, 37 
Hall, Benjamin R., 75 
Hall, Hugh, 46 
Hall, John, 8-9 
Hall, Robert, 30 
Halladay, L. P., 92, 93-94 
Hanson, Russell, 134, 135 
Harrison, Edwin S., 110 
Hart, Fred J., 151 
Hattenhauer, B. A., 46 
Hattenhauer, R. A., 46 
Haskell, W. W., 46 
Hayes, Gaylord, 10 
Hennepin, Louis, 23 
Hepler, Max, 110 
Hess, J. M., 46 
Hicks, Ernest, 68 



Higby, William, 75 
Hill, H. C, 132-33 
Hill, Harry, 132-36 
Hill brothers, 57 
Hoban, Carl, 150 
Hodgson, Joel, 7 
Holderman, John, 8 
Hood, George, 90 
Hossack, John, 20 
Houchin, Ewin, 11 
Howard, Sam, 97 
Howe, L. D., 95 
Hudson, Thomas, 46 
Huggans, James, 24, 30 
Hunter, John M., 125 
Hupp, Rosalind, 128 

Ieuter, Charles, 70 
Iwan, Adolph, 94 

Jack, Matt, 43 
Jaegle, Leo, 143 
Jennings, W. H., 110 
Johnson, Ralph, 90 
Johnston, Tommy, 50 
Jolliet, Louis, 2-3 
Jones, W. C, 134 
Julien, Harvey, 109 

Kangley, John, 31, 42 
Kangley, Vincent, 42 
Katus, William, 113 
Katzint, Louis, 140 
Keating, B. T., 78 
Ketcham, Frank, 103-4, 131 
Kopp, Isadore, 53 
Kmetz, George, 140 
Kmetz, Joseph, 152 
Knox, George, 70 
Kuhns, John T., 46 

La Salle, Sieur de, 4 
Laughlin, Williamson, 21 
Le Roy, Fred, 67 
Le Roy, Virginia, Mrs., 129 
Lewis, Isaac, 97 
Lightholder, Helen, 137 
Lindsay, Ralph, 90 
Loot, J. B., 85 
Lorimer, John, 98 
Lovejoy, Elijah P., 20 
Lukins, Harry, 67 



Lukins, W. H., 33 
Lundy, Benjamin, 20 
Lundy family, 1 1 
Lynch, Danny, 70 

Mackey, George, 25 
Mackey, Norton, 15 
Mackey family, 10, 11 
Maher, Johnny, 70 
Marquette, Jacques, 2-4 
Mason, William, 25 
Mathis family, 11 
McAllister, "Spikes," 70 
McCormick, Albert, 30 
McDermott, John, 37 
McDowell, Andrew, 11 
Mclntyre, Nate, 53 
McKernan, James, 17 
McLuckie, Andrew, 97 
McNamara, Earl, 139 
McNeil, Jock, 53 
McQuown, Sherman, 25 
McQuown, William, 25 
Merritt, Lee, 25 
Miles, W. C, 104 
Miller, J. O., Mrs., 109 
Mills, L. C, 46 
Mills family, 11 
Moon family, 8, 10 
Morgan, John, 15 
Morgan, Nathan, 10 
Morgan, Rees, 16 
Morgan, William, 14 
Morgan family, 10, 11 
Morris, J. F., 126 
Morse, C. F., 35 
Morse, Dave, 114 
Mosher, Joseph, 46 
Mowbray, Tom, 25 
Mulford, Clarence, 103 
Mulledore, Charles, 25 
Mulvihill,J. J„ Jr., 144 
Murdock, J. T., 46 
Murphy, Francis, 24 
Myer, Billy, 50, 51 

Nattinger, John G., 27 
Newman, Martin A., 11 
Norberg, Alexander, 97 
Novotney, Ralph, 130 

O'Conor, Andrew, 134, 135 



Olander, Victor, 118 
O'Neil, Abe, 25 
O'Neil, John, 24 
O'Neil, Joseph, 46 
O'Neil, Josiah, 24 
Opdycke, M. L., 76 
Osborne, Dell, 25 
Osborne, R. C. 131 

Paget, Charles, 1 1 

Painter, Isaac, 11 

Painter, Jack, 25 

Painter, Uriah, 25 

Parrett, William, 28, 32 

Patterson, Andy, 104 

Peters, Claude, 77 

Peterson, James, Mrs., 153 

Phillips, Jacob, 11 

Phillips, Lyle, 110 

Phillips, Wm„ 19 

Pierson, Frank, 140 

Plimmer, George, Mrs., 146 

Plumb, E. F., 126 

Plumb, Fawcett, 42, 104 

Plumb, John, 42 

Plumb, Ralph, 27, 28, 30, 31, 41 

42, 43, 46, 48, 49, 86 
Plumb, Samuel, 34, 35 
Pope, Emsley, 1 1 
Pratt, Joe, 25 
Purcell, Richard, 87 
Purcell, Richard F., 70, 116 

Quinn, Ed, 70 

Rainey, William, 10, 30 
Read, J. L., 150 
Reddick, William, 10 
Reed, Mike, 120 
Reeves, Marietta, Mrs., 104 
Reeves, Walter, 67, 77 
Reiferscheid, William, 82, 86 
Reinel, Edward, Mrs., 116 
Reno, Tad, 110 
Rice, Isaac A., 26 
Richard, I. F., 85 
Riggs, Helen, 116 
Riteman, George, 111 
Robb, William, 133 
Robeza, Joseph, 97 
Roosevelt, Theodore, 84 
Ross, M. I., 11 



157 



Ryon, C. E., 126 
Ryon, James, 38 
Ryon, John, 25 

St. Clair, Ed, 70 

Scharfenberg, Frank, 148-49 

Schiffbauer, William, 153 

Schmitz, Charles, 114-15 

Schwartz, Zephaniah, 1 1 , 29 

Sczabrinski, John, 97 

Sears, Kenneth, 130 

Seipp, Charles, 140 

Seipp, William, 135 

Shabbona, 6, 8, 17-19 

Shay, A. H., 134 

Sheehan, Tommy, 90 

Shull, Irl, Mrs., 146 

Siddall, Sarah, 66 

Smith, Art, 67 

Smith, Henry, 46 

Smith, James, 153 

Smith, "Mysterious" Billy, 50 

Smith, R. P., 30 

Smith family, 11 

Snyder, Charles, 88 

Soderstrom, Reuben G., 116, 120-21 

125, 135 
Sopher, George, 126 
Souder family, 10 
Sowers, W. J., 90 
Speed, James, 91 
Spiers, James, 97 
Stauber, Adolph, 64 
Steiner, Edward, 57-59 
Stephenson, J. W., 10 
Stevenson, Adlai, 84 
Stewart, Harry, 97 
Stiles, Aaron K., 47 
Stiles, Roy E., 76 
Stimac, George, 98 



Stoddard, George W., 104 
Stout, H. R., 30 
Strawn, William, 20-21 
Streator, Worthy L., 27 
Sturgess, Thomas, 10, 11 
Suhe, Mike, 97 
Sullivan, William J., 110 

Taylor, T. E., 67, 85 
Temple, George, 30 
Teyshak, Joseph, 143 
Thompson family, 11 
Tilden, Charles, 140 
Tombaugh, Clyde William, 136 
Trout, Harry, 77 
Turnipseed, 90 

Van Loon, Sam, 68 
Van Loon, Will, 68 
Viskocil, "Big Joe," 90 

Wargo, Louis, 143 
Wauchope, Samuel, 11 
White, Thomas, 98 
Wilks, 30, 36 
Willey, Thomas, 42 
Williams, Donald, 152 
Williams, E. E„ 29 
Williams, John E., 46, 59, 80-81, 

100, 104, 109 
Williams, S. W., 43 
Williamson, Harriet, Mrs., 145 
Wilson, V. G., 35 
Windus, Chris, 90 
Woolley, W. W., 104 
Woods, L. R., 35 
Woods, Leslie G., Ill 

Zimmerman, Frank, 140 
Zweng, T., 33 



UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS UBBANA 





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